2009 Archives

SMU Researcher Among Geothermal Experts at Newseum Event

May 5, 2009

DALLAS (SMU) - Maria Richards, coordinator of SMU’s pioneering Geothermal Lab, was among geothermal industry leaders and experts presenting a Geothermal Showcase at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., on May 6.

Professor David Blackwell and Maria Richards of SMU’s pioneering Geothermal Lab
David Blackwell (r.) and Maria Richards

Participants virtually visited some of the leading geothermal energy development projects in the United States and heard from companies at the forefront of geothermal power growth. A panel of leading geothermal scientists discussed the promising question: "What can geothermal resources contribute to our energy needs?"

When most people think of geothermal energy, they usually think of extremely high heat, such as geysers.

But the Geothermal Map of North America produced by Richards and Professor David Blackwell for the American Association of Petroleum Geologists in 2004 revealed locations all over the United States where subsurface temperatures are high enough to drive small, binary power plants and generate electricity. Blackwell and Richards are members of the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences in SMU’s Dedman College.

This kind of power plant is similar to an air conditioning unit run backwards, using heat to generate electricity. The hot water that runs through one chamber in the pump heats fluid with a lower boiling point in an adjacent chamber, which expands into high-pressure vapor and drives a turbine.

Blackwell’s “light bulb” moment came when he realized that oil and gas wells all over the country were spewing moderately hot wastewater, but petroleum company executives were unaware of the resource they were pumping back into the ground.

Deep drilling through hard rock is expensive: that’s one reason traditional geothermal energy development has lagged behind green technologies like wind and solar power. But Blackwell’s mapping has proven that many existing oil and gas wells in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and some mid-continent states reach shallower depths where temperatures still range from 200-300 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s hot enough for a binary power plant to do its job.

The Geothermal Showcase was sponsored by the Geothermal Energy Association along with Ormat, Enel North America, and Pratt and Whitney Power Systems. Karl Gawell, GEA's Executive Director, Paul Thomsen, Director for Policy and Business Development of Ormat, Toni Volpe, President and CEO of Enel North America, and John Fox, Director/General manager of Pratt and Whitney Power Systems were leading presenters.

Other industry speakers included Lou Capuano, Jr., CEO of ThermaSource, Ken MacLeod, president and CEO of Western GeoPower, Kevin Wallace, senior project manager of Power Engineers, Brian Fairbank, president and CEO of Nevada Geothermal Power, Michael Hayter, director of geothermal development for Raser Technologies, and Bernie Karl, owner of Chena Hot Springs Resort.

In addition to Richards, leading government and scientific speakers included Professor Jefferson Tester of MIT, Dr. Lisa Shevenell, director of the Great Basin Center for Geothermal Energy at the University of Nevada Reno, and Toni Boyd, assistant director of the GeoHeat Center at the Oregon Institute of Technology, Ed Wall, director of the DOE Geothermal Technologies Program, and Andrew Sabin, director of the U.S. Navy's Geothermal Program Office.

A special presentation on the future of geothermal technology was presented by Dan Reicher, director of Climate Change and Energy Initiatives for Google.org along with Charles Baron of Google.org.

For more information about SMU’s Geothermal Lab and the research by Blackwell and Richards, contact Kim Cobb of SMU News and Communications at 214-768-7654 by e-mail at cobbk@smu.edu

For more information about the Geothermal Energy Association and Wednesday’s event, contact Leslie Blodgett at the Geothermal Energy Association, 202-454-5241, or by e-mail at www.geo-energy.org.

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