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DOE to award $3M to identify new geothermal resources using play fairway analysis

31 January 2014

The US Department of Energy will award $3 million to spur geothermal energy development using play fairway analysis (DE-FOA-0000841) This technique identifies prospective geothermal resources in areas with no obvious surface expression by mapping the most favorable intersections of heat, permeability, and fluid. While commonly used in oil and gas exploration, play fairway analysis is not yet widely used in the geothermal industry.

A play fairway analysis defines levels of uncertainty with respect to the presence and utility of geothermal system elements, and translates them into maps to high grade the geographic area over which the most favorable combinations of heat, permeability, and fluid are thought to extend. This analysis is conducted on a regional (basin) scale, with the resulting maps covering areas up to several thousand square miles. (Additional background information on Play Fairway Analysis and Geothermal Exploration was contained in DOE’s Notice of Intent (NOI) DE-FOA-0001061.)

By improving success rates for exploration drilling, this data-mapping tool could help attract investment in geothermal energy projects and significantly lower the costs of geothermal energy.

The US Geological Survey estimates that 30 gigawatts of undiscovered hydrothermal energy potential exist untapped beneath the Earth’s surface—nearly 10 times the current installed capacity of geothermal energy in the United States. One of the keys to tapping this clean resource is reducing the cost and risk of locating it.

By quantifying and reducing the risk of exploratory drilling, play fairway analysis projects could unlock significant geothermal energy resources and accelerate industry-wide adoption of this tool.

The Energy Department will support one-year collaborative research and development projects, especially in new, unexplored areas, that adapt play fairway analysis to geothermal exploration. These projects will focus on using existing geologic and geophysical data to develop maps that identify areas with a higher probability of containing a geothermal resource.

The research seeks to develop a methodology for exploration of geothermal resources in a particular region, or play.

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