Going 20 kilometers deep into the ground, will there be endless energy?

Wind energy, solar energy, geothermal energy, nuclear energy… With a large amount of greenhouse gases and global climate change, the development of renewable and clean energy is more and more urgent for the future development of human society. As a result, we have seen more and more wind turbines and solar panels, and have also been working to achieve controlled nuclear fusion.

Among them, geothermal energy does not seem to be mentioned often, but in the land under our feet, in addition to fossil fuels, there is actually a huge amount of energy.

▲ Picture from: Unsplash

Quaise Energy, a start-up company derived from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is planning an "earth drilling" to drill a deep hole about 20 kilometers long into the earth to release the largest unexplored Energy – geothermal energy.

▲ Picture from: Quaise

Quaise chose to develop geothermal energy because it believes that this terawatt-scale clean energy source (1 terawatt equals 10 to the 12th watt) has considerable potential. Because geothermal energy is explored underground, resources such as rigs, supply chains, and frameworks from the fossil fuel industry can be employed, rather than building from scratch.

Plus, the constant stream of geothermal heat won't be as intermittent as wind and solar, and it's easier to access than controlled nuclear fusion, which is still a work in progress today. No fuel is required, no waste is generated, and it uses less than 1% of the land and materials of other renewable energy sources. Compared to other renewable sources, geothermal energy is more convenient and "cleaner".

▲ Picture from: Quaise

Since geothermal energy has such great potential, why is the "sense of presence" in clean energy not high? In fact, human beings have begun to utilize geothermal energy a long time ago. For example, shallow geothermal resources near the surface have created hot springs and agricultural greenhouses. Many countries, including my country, have also built geothermal power stations, but the utilization rate is limited.

▲ Picture from: Unsplash

It's not that humans don't want geothermal energy, but — they can't. The inside of the earth is a "big fireball". The deeper it goes down from the surface, the higher the temperature. From the volcanic magma and earthquakes that burst out from time to time in the fault, you can see the "hot" and "hot" deep in the stratum. huge energy. It is this that prevents human beings from exploring underground.

▲ Picture from: Unsplash

The Kola Superdeep Borehole in Russia, Soviet-era scientists originally wanted to penetrate all the way to the mantle, but after one of the holes reached 12,289 meters in 1989, high temperatures of at least 200°C Damage to the drill bit, porous rock, gas and other fluids pouring into the hole, and urgent funding sealed the deep hole.

▲The sealed Kola deep hole, picture from: New Altas

The Kola cave is only about 12 kilometers long, and Quaise's ambition is to reach 20 kilometers underground where the environment could reach about 500°C. If you want to go further, the tools for "opening the way" are naturally stronger.

Quaise is developing a new ultra-deep drilling method: first using conventional rotary drilling to drill into the subterranean formation. Then switch to high-power millimeter waves to melt, break, and vaporize hard matter before heading down. It took Soviet scientists more than 20 years to drill about 12 kilometers, and high-power millimeter waves down 20 kilometers, maybe only 100 days.

▲ Picture from: New Altas

It is worth mentioning that the high-power millimeter waves that may allow Quaise's drilling to reach new heights are related to another clean energy source: nuclear energy from controlled nuclear fusion. To achieve controlled nuclear fusion, the instrument needs to withstand high temperatures of hundreds of millions of degrees. The researchers who designed the tokamak design (nuclear fusion reaction device) found that millimeter waves can greatly heat the plasma.

In the research process of controllable nuclear fusion that hopes to imitate the internal reactions of the sun, cyclotrons and millimeter waves are breakthrough fusion research results, and they are also of great significance to the "underground sun".

▲The cyclotron that heats the plasma, picture from: New Altas

According to Quaise's plan, in 2024 it will have the first full-scale hybrid drilling rig that combines traditional rotary drilling and millimeter wave drilling capabilities, and in 2026, it will be able to utilize the first ultra-thermally enhanced geothermal system and obtain access to a small number of wells. 100 megawatts of thermal energy, the first fossil fuel power plant to be re-powered with clean geothermal steam will be built in 2028.

Energy has always plagued human beings. If Quaise's plan can come true, we have "inexhaustible" geothermal energy, and the future of mankind may have a new vision.

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