Iceland begins ‘Thor’ magma energy experiment


If successful, the experimental project could produce up to 10 times more energy than an existing conventional gas or oil well, by generating electricity from the heat stored inside the earth: in this case, volcanic areas.

Launched in August last year, the drilling was completed on January 25, reaching a record-breaking depth of 4,659 metres (nearly 3 miles).

At this depth, engineers hope to access hot liquids under extreme pressure and at temperatures of 427 degrees C (800 F), creating steam that turns a turbine to generate clean electricity.

Engineer Albert Albertsson says Iceland's geothermal well could generate five to 10 times more power than a conventional well

Engineer Albert Albertsson says Iceland's geothermal well could generate five to 10 times more power than a conventional well

Engineer Albert Albertsson says Iceland’s geothermal well could generate five to 10 times more power than a conventional well

Iceland’s decision to harness the heat inside the earth in a process known as geothermal energy dates back to the 1970s and the oil crisis.

But the new geothermal well is expected to generate far more energy, as the extreme heat and pressure at that depth makes the water take the form of a ‘supercritical’ fluid, which is neither gas nor liquid.

‘We expect to get five to 10 times more power from the well than a conventional well today,’ said Albert Albertsson, an engineer at the Icelandic energy company HS Orka, involved in the drilling project.

To supply electricity and hot water to a city like Reykjavik with 212,000 inhabitants, ‘we would need 30-35 conventional high temperature wells’ compared to only three or five supercritical wells, says Albertsson. 

The IDDP overlooks craters formed by the last volcanic eruption 700 years ago that covered this part of the Reykjanes peninsula with a sea of lava

The IDDP overlooks craters formed by the last volcanic eruption 700 years ago that covered this part of the Reykjanes peninsula with a sea of lava

The IDDP overlooks craters formed by the last volcanic eruption 700 years ago that covered this part of the Reykjanes peninsula with a sea of lava

The cost would be much less.

Scientists and the team working on the ‘Thor’ drill project have two years to determine its success and the economic feasibility of the experiment, which is called the Iceland Deep Drilling Project (IDDP).

Situated not far from the Blue Lagoon, whose steaming blue waters attracted more than one million tourists last year, the IDDP overlooks craters formed by the last volcanic eruption 700 years ago that covered this part of the Reykjanes peninsula with a sea of lava.

The peninsula’s moon-like landscape also attracted NASA training missions in 1965 and 1967, aiming to prepare astronauts for unknown landscapes they might encounter on the moon.

CO2 emissions rising

A Nordic island nation, rich in geysers with fountainlike jets of water and steam, hot springs and breathtaking volcanoes, Iceland is currently the only country in the world with 100 percent renewable electricity. 

Geothermal accounts for 25 percent, while the rest comes from hydroelectric dams.

But is Iceland a model for clean energy?

The answer is complex, according to Martin Norman, a Norwegian sustainable finance specialist at Greenpeace.

Although geothermal energy is still preferable to gas, coal and oil, it’s not ‘completely renewable and without problems,’ he said.

‘As soon as you start drilling you have issues to it, such as sulphur pollution and CO2 emission and they need to find solutions to deal with it,’ he added.

Albertsson agreed but said geothermal emissions were only ‘a fraction’ compared to those produced by oil and natural gas. He added that recycling methods are progressing rapidly.

Iceland prides itself on being at the forefront of renewable energy, yet ‘it is far from meeting the international objectives in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions,’ Norman said.

HOW IT WOULD WORK 

The magma project, called Krafla Magma Testbed, will involve drilling a hole 2.1 kilometres deep directly into a magma chamber below the Krafla volcano in northern Iceland.

The first phase of the project is planned to start by 2020 and will cost $30 million, the British Geological Survey said in a statement on Friday about the study, which also aims to explore the mechanism of eruptions to protect communities from volcanic disasters. 

To reach the magma, Thor is hammering down 3 miles between two tectonic plates, in a boundary region known as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. At this depth, intense pressure transforms extremely hot water into 'supercritical steam', which is neither liquid nor gas

To reach the magma, Thor is hammering down 3 miles between two tectonic plates, in a boundary region known as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. At this depth, intense pressure transforms extremely hot water into 'supercritical steam', which is neither liquid nor gas

To reach the magma, Thor is hammering down 3 miles between two tectonic plates, in a boundary region known as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. At this depth, intense pressure transforms extremely hot water into ‘supercritical steam’, which is neither liquid nor gas

The Iceland Deep Drilling Project’s rig is drilling three miles into old lava flows of  Reykjanes, with the hopes of producing the hottest hole in the world – temperatures between 752°F and 1832 °F.

If successful, experts believe this achievement ‘could lead to a revolution in the energy efficiency of high-temperature geothermal areas worldwide.’

 

 

The Institute of Economic Studies at the University of Iceland said in a February report that the country will not be able to abide by the COP21 climate change agreement signed in Paris in 2015.

Greenhouse gas emissions are rising in all sectors of the economy, except in fisheries and agriculture, it said.

And they are predicted to rise by between 53 and 99 percent by 2030 from 1999 levels, a far cry from the island nation’s COP21 summit pledge to slash carbon pollution by 40 percent compared to the same benchmark. 

Iceland’s heavy and energy-intensive—aluminium, silicon—industries and booming tourism are some of the causes.

The land of ice and fire, with a population of 338,000, expects to welcome more than two million foreign visitors this year.

With the frequent landing of charter planes, coaches weaving through the interior of the country, quads and powerful 4×4 driving over the black lava landscape and hotels sprouting up in the capital, the growing volume of holidaymakers is taking a toll on Iceland’s environment.

Norman, of Greenpeace, fears the capital will turn into ‘a Costa del Reykjavik’ due to the lure of the profits to be made and result in Icelanders giving up the country’s unique nature.

In an interview with AFP, Icelandic Environment Minister Bjort Olafsdottir said she hopes her nation will find the political will to reach its COP21 goals.

‘If we do nothing, if we don’t take strong actions, we won’t reach the Paris agreement goals. But that’s not the plan,’ she said.

The current government has doubled taxes on CO2 emissions and financial incentives for polluting industries have been removed, she argued.

‘It is the first step, probably it is not enough. We have to do it with the help of the industry,’ she said.

Iceland’s long-term goal is to reduce the country’s dependence on hydrocarbons by having all cars run on electric power.

The project is being coordinated by Iceland’s Geothermal Research Group (GEORG) and the British Geological Survey, with the participation of 38 institutes and companies from 11 countries including the United States, Canada and Russia.

Producing geothermal energy from magma would enable Iceland to export more energy and could also revive a plan to build a power cable from Iceland to Britain to provide power to British homes, in what would be the world’s longest power interconnector.

A Krafla geothermal power plant in Reykjahlid, Iceland.  Producing geothermal energy from magma would enable Iceland to export more energy and could also revive a plan to build a power cable from Iceland to Britain to provide power to British homes.

A Krafla geothermal power plant in Reykjahlid, Iceland.  Producing geothermal energy from magma would enable Iceland to export more energy and could also revive a plan to build a power cable from Iceland to Britain to provide power to British homes.

A Krafla geothermal power plant in Reykjahlid, Iceland.  Producing geothermal energy from magma would enable Iceland to export more energy and could also revive a plan to build a power cable from Iceland to Britain to provide power to British homes.

THE MEGACABLE 

Iceland agreed with Britain last year to study building the 1,000-km long IceLink cable, which could power 1.6 million British homes.

Those plans were delayed due to Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and concern in Iceland that exports would increase power prices at home and reduce the island’s attractiveness to energy-intensive industries such as data centres.

Britain’s National Grid would continue to look into the Icelandic interconnector link, a spokeswoman said. 

 

Iceland, a volcanic island that produces all its electricity from geothermal energy and hydropower, agreed with Britain last year to study building the 1,000-km long IceLink cable, which could power 1.6 million British homes.

Those plans were delayed due to Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and concern in Iceland that exports would increase power prices at home and reduce the island’s attractiveness to energy-intensive industries such as data centres.

‘The (possibility of increasing geothermal energy supply in Iceland) would most certainly be a boost to the proposed (IceLink) plan as there were worries on the effect on local prices with increased exports,’ Wayne Bryan, an analyst at the British Alfa Energy consultancy, told Reuters.

Britain’s National Grid would continue to look into the Icelandic interconnector link, a spokeswoman said.

It said it was confident of securing the financing as a number of countries and companies had expressed interest in contributing, but did not give details.

The Iceland Deep Drilling Project's rig is drilling three miles into old lava flows of Reykjanes. The first well was discovered in 2009 while the team was drilling in Krafla

The Iceland Deep Drilling Project's rig is drilling three miles into old lava flows of Reykjanes. The first well was discovered in 2009 while the team was drilling in Krafla

The Iceland Deep Drilling Project’s rig is drilling three miles into old lava flows of Reykjanes. The first well was discovered in 2009 while the team was drilling in Krafla



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