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Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Novel geothermal technology packs a one-two punch against climate change

University of Minnesota
June 3, 2011

Two University of Minnesota Department of Earth Sciences researchers have developed an innovative approach to tapping heat beneath the Earth’s surface. The method is expected to not only produce renewable electricity far more efficiently than conventional geothermal systems, but also help reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) -- dealing a one-two punch against climate change.

The approach, termed CO2-plume geothermal system, or CPG, was developed by Earth sciences faculty member Martin Saar and graduate student Jimmy Randolph in the university’s College of Science and Engineering. The research was published in the most recent issue of Geophysical Research Letters. The researchers have applied for a patent and plan to form a start-up company to commercialize the new technology.

Established methods for transforming Earth’s heat into electricity involve extracting hot water from rock formations several hundred feet from the Earth’s surface at the few natural hot spots around the world, then using the hot water to turn power-producing turbines. The university’s novel system was born in a flash of insight on a northern Minnesota road trip and jump-started with $600,000 in funding from the U of M Institute on the Environment’s Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE). The CPG system uses high-pressure CO2 instead of water as the underground heat-carrying fluid.

CPG provides a number of advantages over other geothermal systems, Randolph said. First, CO2 travels more easily than water through porous rock, so it can extract heat more readily. As a result, CPG can be used in regions where conventional geothermal electricity production would not make sense from a technical or economic standpoint.
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