Limitless, renewable, nonpolluting energy? You're standing on it

Geothermal resources offer a tantalizing opportunity to provide affordable, carbon-neutral electricity

April 24, 2023

For centuries, people have been taking advantage of natural geothermal energy from hot springs and steam vents for heating and bathing. New Lab technology is unlocking the enormous potential of this clean, "always-on" energy.

By Luke Frash

In the quest for energy sources that reduce carbon emissions to stave off global warming, geothermal energy is coming into the spotlight—and it should. Virtually limitless, “always on” and widely available across all 50 states, geothermal resources offer a tantalizing opportunity to provide affordable, carbon-neutral electricity, heating and cooling for every American without disrupting our economy.

Several thousand feet below the Earth’s surface, rock can reach temperatures that exceed 300 °F. Passing fluids through the rock at this temperature harvests enough heat to spin turbines and generate electricity. Enhanced geothermal systems are a promising technology that could make this energy source available. As demonstrated by Reykjavik, Iceland, smart use of geothermal can dramatically improve air quality while also reducing heating and cooling bills.

Until recently however, significant barriers have stood in the way. One particularly concerning problem is induced seismicity, where enhanced geothermal systems could cause tremors in the Earth unless solutions are found to prevent these shakes. At Los Alamos National Laboratory, we recently discovered a promising new approach, called fracture caging, to solve this induced seismicity problem. In a non-obvious twist, fracture caging is achievable using existing tools and expertise refined over the decades by the oil and gas industry. Adopting caging merely requires a shift in thinking.

Read the full column as it appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican.