Geothermal power is extracted from heat that occurs naturally below the Earth's surface. While it has been used for space heating and bathing since ancient times, its primary use today is to generate electricity. One benefit of geothermal power is that it can serve as base-load power, with very little intermittency.
Improved exploration techniques are needed to identify the best sites for geothermal power plants. In addition, research on drilling methods and other geophysical techniques are critical to make sites as productive as possible and to extend the life of geothermal resources.
Schematic showing an enhanced geothermal reservoir.
Livermore Laboratory is using interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) computer software to address the challenges of geothermal power production. InSAR is used to map surface deformation at high resolution over large areas using radar images from satellites. The deformation maps are then analyzed to determine the presence of subsurface fluids in geothermal reservoirs.
Permeability is increased in the hot region and fluids are pumped into the reservoir. Creating and maintaining fracture permeability requires careful experiments and geochemical modeling to determine the correct fluid chemistry, flow rates, and injection strategies.
This Science & Technology Review article describes factors leading to Livermore Laboratory's renewed research efforts in geothermal power.