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MIT Scientists Scavenging the Power of Volcanoes… Safely, They Say

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An MIT report submitted to the DOE forwards the idea of scavenging the power of volcanoes for electricity, safely. In short, they want to inject water inside a dormant volcano in Oregon at pressures that could trigger earthquakes. However, MIT claims that the new technologies they use will not generate any crust movement.

The MIT study reveals that just 2 percent of the heat found at six miles beneath the ground could be transformed into a huge amount of electricity: 2,500 times as much energy that the U.S. needs right now.

The technique employed in this project is called Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) and involves the injection of millions of gallons of water at over 10,000 feet into the crust (hydroshearing) – more or less working like a geothermal pump used everywhere in the world.

MIT’s project has backers like the DOE, Google, AltaRock Energy and Davenport Newberry Holdings. The latter two have already been studying how to harvest energy from the Pacific Northwest volcano and will support the experiments at the Oregon Newberry volcano this summer.

“We know the heat is there,” Susan Petty, president of AltaRock, told the Huffington Post. “The big issue is can we circulate enough water through the system to make it economic.”

Unlike hydrofracking, which had been blamed for numerous quakes around the world, the EGS technique will measure the effects of pumping water into the ground by using specialized microseismicity sensors. Hydrofracking, on the other hand, does not measure anything, resulting in seismic activity.

For population protection purposes, the EGS has been forced out of urban areas, with the parties involved having the obligation of informing the nearby population upfront of any move they make. This rule has been set by an international protocol this year.

Unlike wind or solar, geothermal energy is a non-stop resource, and has so far been used too little to actually matter. Only 0.3 percent of the total electricity production in the United States is being generated from geothermal. New technologies like seismic sensors and improved drilling techniques could make geothermal energy one of the most important in the energy mix of the future.

However, this is a territory that has to be approached with great care, as it’s using one of Earth’s resources that keeps its core spinning and generating magnetic fields: the heat. Mars, for example, doesn’t have this heat anymore. Every planet slowly loses its heat naturally over the eons, but accelerating the process will probably produce some undesirable effects on life as we know it.

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