SMU’s Geothermal Laboratory is renowned national resource for the
development of clean, green energy from the Earth’s heat.
The first Google.Org-funded geothermal mapping report confirms vast coast-to-coast clean energy source.
Historically, geothermal development has been restricted to areas
substantial tectonic activity or volcanism, such as The Geysers field in
California. But sophisticated mapping of geothermal resources directed
by David Blackwell,
SMU’s Hamilton professor of Geothermal Studies, and
Maria Richards, director of SMU’s Geothermal Laboratory, makes it clear
that vast geothermal resources reachable through current technology
could replace and multiply the levels of energy currently produced in
the United States - mostly by coal-fired power plants.
technological developments are feeding increased geothermal development
in areas with little or no tectonic
activity or volcanism:
Temperature Hydrothermal – Energy is produced from subsurface areas with
naturally occurring high fluid volumes at temperatures ranging from less
than boiling to 300°F (150°C). This approach is producing energy in
Alaska, Oregon, Idaho, and Utah.
- Geopressure and Coproduced Fluids Geothermal – Oil and/or natural gas
are produced together with electricity generated from hot geothermal
fluids drawn from the same well. Systems are installed or being
installed in Wyoming, North Dakota, Utah, Louisiana, Mississippi and
- Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) – Subsurface areas with low fluid
content but high temperatures are “enhanced” with injection of fluid and
other reservoir engineering techniques. EGS resources are typically
deeper than hydrothermal resources and represent the largest share of
total geothermal resources capable of supporting larger capacity power
SMU researchers have completed a national mapping project backed by
Google.org that makes it possible to access reliable geothermal data
(heat flow and temperature-at-depth information) culled from oil and gas
development all over the country. Their mapping project already has
determined that there is potential for more electric generation from
geothermal sources in West Virginia than is currently being produced by
the state's mostly coal-fired generation plants.
This is a national energy story with a strong Texas base: Even before
SMU researchers completed their latest map, an assessment they produced
for the Texas State Energy Conservation Office confirmed the existence
of a vast, geothermal zone with enough heat
to supply Texas with clean, renewable, affordable electricity for
hundreds of years.
SMU's Geothermal Lab hosted a
conference in mid-June 2011
aimed at convincing oil and gas producers to use the technology and
resources they already have to develop geothermal production. Many of
the same technologies that oil and gas companies pioneered for
retrieving natural gas from shale can be used to create steam from the
hot “dry” rocks found underneath that shale.
“Oil and gas related companies have an inherent advantage in developing
geothermal technology,” said Bruce Bullock, the director of SMU’s
Maguire Energy Institute, whose remarks opened the conference. “The heat
already is being generated in the form of produced waters associated
with oil and gas production. Tapping that heat for electricity
production (that can be sold at a profit) can improve the economic life
of projects. Oil and gas companies possess the skill sets, engineering
know how, and existing sources of thermal energy to develop significant
amounts of geothermal energy.”
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