In case you didn’t catch it the world is in danger. In the UN the climate assessment in April’s early days shows that we’re on the trajectory that’s going to elude the goals for climate change set out in the Paris Agreement, and we have to reduce carbon emissions quickly. While wind and solar power are crucial (they are in fact, essential components in the Biden administration’s climate plan) they’re also the kind of things we’ve heard of before, meaning they’ll only get us far. The thing we require, as according to the UN report suggests, are new ways of solving the problem. Clean energy is hidden in abandoned oil wells, This is the reason the pilot program recently announced in the US Department of Energy (DOE) is especially intriguing. If it succeeds it will help to solve many problems at the same time and utilize a method that is often ignored Geothermal energy.
Geothermal energy operates by relying on a basic premise that the Earth’s core is extremely hot and by drilling just one or two miles beneath the surface we can draw on that virtually infinite source of heat to produce energy for our businesses and homes without generating almost as many greenhouse gas emissions that result through burning fossil-fuels. But drilling isn’t inexpensively and accounts for only half the price of geothermal energy projects and requires specialization to locate beneath the surface, then drill soil, then then install the infrastructure necessary to transfer power to the top of the earth.
However, the US is, in the wake of an explosion in oil and gas and a gas boom, happens that it has millions of gas and oil wells that are in the desert across the country. Oil and gas wells have been discovered to have some of the same features that geothermal wells have — in particular, they are deep wells in the ground with pipes that are able to transport fluids onto the top. The DOE is asking, why don’t we reuse the wells?
Old isn’t new anymore
That’s precisely how the program pilot of the agency, dubbed Wells of Opportunity ReAmplify will do by awarding $8.4 millions to 4 projects across the United States that each seek to tap into one of the old wells for geothermal energy extraction instead of gas or oil. If they succeed they could become the key to not just cutting down on the nation’s consumption of carbon-degrading fossil fuels but also in helping to in determining how to turn some of the more than 125,000 workerswho are employed in gas and oil extraction across the nation into jobs that are clean energy.
Salehi as well as his colleagues from The University of Oklahoma want to utilize four wells owned through Blue Cedar Energy, a local business, to test an idea known as “direct use” — heating hot water with hot water in nearby buildings. The water could be taken from underground reservoirs, or like this University of Oklahoma team is doing, it can be pumped into the soil and then returned on the surface. Clean energy is hidden in abandoned oil wells, Salehi along with his group are expecting the water they pump into wells to reach temperatures of 150 degrees Fahrenheit after this, it will be utilized to provide cooling and heating for the middle and elementary school located just a mile from the wells in the community of Tuttle.
“There’s a huge opportunity to use these wells for heating and cooling our communities,” said Lauren Boyd, program manager of the Enhanced Geothermal Systems program in the DOE’s Geothermal Technologies Office, which is responsible for grants for the Wells of Opportunity grants. Over half of all energy consumed in American homeowners — just 7 percent from renewable sources in 2020 — is for heat and air conditioning. Making use of those millions of wells that are abandoned spread across the country, to change the source of this heating and cooling to geothermal power will be the catalyst for the reduction on greenhouse gas emission.
In order to be considered successful for the project to be considered successful, to be considered successful, the University of Oklahoma project has to produce continuously at minimum one megawatt of power during the course of a year, that’s roughly enough to provide power to several hundred houses. Salehi is convinced that they can easily meet that goal. “Our intention is for these four wells to be used for at least the elementary and middle school,” Salehi stated, “but based on the simulations and computational work we have done, it’ll be good enough for three schools.”
Is geothermal a viable option?
Certain European nations already make the direct application of geothermal energy on a massive scale. Iceland is one of them. It is well-known for its volcanic activity (remember Eyjafjallajokull, which closed European flights for a short period of time in 2010? ) is utilizing its enormous reserves of geothermal energy to warm 90% the homes. However, there are some disadvantages for direct utilization. It is easy to lose heat during transport unless pipes are properly insulated, according to Patrick Fulton, assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at Cornell and geothermal wells being utilized for direct use must be located near to the structures they’ll be servicing -typically within a few miles.
This limitation on distance is the reason the other three projects that received money from the DOE award are focused on converting geothermal energy into electricity, which is able to be much more extensive than heat. While wells near cities and towns may be ideal for supplying heating directly but wells located in rural areas could be more suitable to generate electricity.
Take Transitional Energy, a Colorado-based business that was awarded funding through the DOE to construct an energy generation facility at the Blackburn oil field located in Nevada. Contrary to the others, Transitional is planning to set-up its operation in an oil field that is still in operation , but in wells that have been used for a long time and produce less oil. Much of what they create according to Johanna Ostrum, chief operating officer at transitional energy is extremely hot waste which is a common product of the entire oil and gas industry. “They’re just cycling a bunch of water through the system, trying to strip out negligible amounts of oil,” Ostrum explained to Recode.