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DOE to Invest up to $90 Million in Advanced Geothermal Energy Technology and Research

EGS cutaway diagram. Click to enlarge.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) issued a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) for up to $90 million over four years to advance the research, development and demonstration of next-generation geothermal energy technology to harness the earth’s interior heat extracted from hot water or rocks.

Currently, DOE has up to $10.5 million available for immediate award under this FOA, with the remainder subject to change and to Congressional appropriations. The FOA addresses the need for additional technical understanding of enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) to accelerate the technology to a state of commercial readiness.

Geothermal energy is a clean, reliable, scalable, renewable energy source and these geothermal projects will help the US tap domestic heat sources that were previously out of reach.

—Assistant Secretary of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Andy Karsner

EGS are systems of engineered reservoirs created by drilling deep wells into hot rock, fracturing the rock, and circulating a fluid through the wells to extract heat. According to a study released early in 2007 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) entitled The Future of Geothermal Energy (earlier post), EGS represents a large, indigenous resource that, with a reasonable investment in research and development (R&D), could provide the US with 100,000 megawatts of cost-competitive electricity, generating capacity by 2050, or 20% of current electricity generation.

While EGS reservoirs have been designed, built, and tested in various locations throughout the world, a number of technical hurdles remain before EGS production facilities will reach commercial production rates and life spans.

Through this FOA, DOE will concentrate on issues related to EGS reservoir creation, operation, and management. In the long-term, the work aims to create, sustain, replicate and commercialize EGS technologies, while in the short-term these projects will develop and demonstrate technologies that are useful to both hydrothermal and EGS geothermal projects.

To reach these goals, this FOA will address two topic areas:

  • Component Technologies R&D: The R&D projects under this topic area will meet the R&D needs identified in DOE’s EGS Technology Evaluation Report (2008). Projects will address aspects of engineered reservoir creation, management, and utilization at high temperatures up to 300°C and depths as great as 10,000 meters.

  • System Demonstrations: The projects under this topic area will allow testing and validation of stimulation techniques for improving productivity of wells or increasing inter-well connectivity at existing geothermal fields. Use of available or experimental technologies from geothermal, petroleum or other relevant industries will be considered.

DOE anticipates making up to 26 awards through this competitive funding opportunity, which is open to industry and academia. In addition to the $10.5 million funding for fiscal year (FY) 2008, and subject to annual Congressional appropriations, up to an additional $30 million is expected to be available for awards in FY 2009. Additional funding up to $49.5 million is expected to be available in FY 2010, subject to change and Congressional appropriations.

A minimum of 20% private sector cost share is required for R&D projects and funding for the awards is subject to Congressional appropriations. Recipient cost share requirements for demonstration projects will be up to 50% and vary by both the phase of the award and the activities within a particular phase. Applications for this funding opportunity are due on or before 12 August 2008.

Following the publication of the MIT report, the DOE and support staff at the national laboratories ran an internal eight-month program to review the assumptions and conclusions of the MIT report.

The later report, An Evaluation of Enhanced Geothermal Systems Technology (2008), concluded that MIT’s assumptions were reasonable and within the bounds of a balanced systems analysis. However, the DOE team decided that MIT conclusions about the amounts of investment needed to achieve competitiveness and produce 100,000 MWe were not supported.

The DOE report found that there are three critical assumptions about EGS technology that require thorough evaluation and testing before the economic viability of EGS can be confirmed:

  1. Demonstration of commercial-scale reservoir. This requires stimulation and maintenance of a large volume of rock (equivalent to several cubic kilometers) in order to minimize temperature decline in the reservoir. Actual stimulated volumes have not been reliably quantified in previous work.

  2. Sustained reservoir production. The MIT study concludes that 200°C fluid flowing at 80 kg/sec (equivalent to about 5 MWe) is needed for economic viability. No EGS project to date has attained flow rates in excess of ~25 kg/sec.

  3. Replication of EGS reservoir performance. EGS technology has not been proven to work at commercial scales over a range of sites with different geologic characteristics.

These assumptions can be tested with multiple EGS reservoir demonstrations using today’s technologies. However, as this evaluation shows, Research and Development should be conducted in parallel with field projects to fill some long-term technology gaps. The key technology requirements for immediate development stemming from this evaluation include:

  • Temperature-hardened submersible pumps
  • Zonal isolation tools
  • Smart tracers
  • Monitoring and logging tools
  • Coupled models to predict reservoir development and performance

Experience from the conventional geothermal and petroleum industries provides a solid foundation from which to make technology improvements. In the long-term, significant reduction in drilling costs will be necessary to access deeper resources, and the cost of conversion of the energy into electricity must be reduced. These improvements will rapidly move EGS technology forward as an economically viable means of tapping the nation’s geothermal resources.

In related internal DOE news, Ed Wall, formerly the Program Manager for the Vehicle Technologies Program, has moved over to become Program Manager for the Geothermal Technologies Program, beginning immediately.

Separately, the BLM and US Forest Service issued a Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for geothermal leasing in the West, including Alaska. (Earlier post.)




I'm a little confused on how much R&D is needed for this. Aren't the folks down-under experts already, why don't we just ask them. Then we can use the money to build the thing. I'm pretty sure SRP is already doing some thermal. Or is this just another time waister, research for research sake and sc**w the people.


There is a vast volcano building under Yellowstone Nat. Park, approx. half the size of the park and extending five miles deep. I just saw it last night on Nova. Maybe we can siphon off some of that heat to power the country and save North America from becoming an ash covered wasteland.


A little more research might be OK- if it’s well directed. However the next step(s) will be environmental impact statements and challenges by those that believe catastrophic energy shortages will purify the earth (and rid it of 2 legged vermin). But I'm trying hard to be optimistic.


Yes, whats with this research BS?

Drilling a hole or two ... yep the technology already exists,
Dynamite the rock at the bottom of the hole ... yep the technology already exists,
Put in an insulated water injector pipe ... yep the technology already exists,
Put in a pump for water return ... yep the technology already exists,
Put in a hot water power generating station ... yep the technology already exists,

Just build it.


I'm with you J T. It's sounds feasible.....but if it truly was feasible and had a big potential for $$$$, you'd think someone would have figured it out by now.

"(Australian) Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane has told a conference in Adelaide that, if generating geothermal energy were easy, it would have been done long ago."

It looks like the Australians are close - hopefully this funding will put America in the lead!

tom deplume

The key figure here is 10,000 meters. That is more than six miles or nearly double that of most oil and gas wells. This requires the use of special alloys or composite ceramic materials. Very few wells have been drilled to that depth and just a little seismic activity could destroy years of work in just a few seconds. Holes that deep get more expensive on a per foot basis the deeper you go.
The USA already has over a half million oil and gas wells which are drilled at depths that have adequate temperatures for power production if we accept a lower conversion efficiency.

Andrey Levin

Conventional steam turbine cycle requires quite hot steam to be efficient. Very few geothermal sources have adequate heat to turn turbines even with much reduced efficiency.

Much research is needed into development of turbines working on low boiling temperature fluids, Kalina cycle turbines, etc., which could use efficiently much more abundant low-quality heat sources.


The South Australian cooper basin at 4-5KLM deep should be producing about now. As the area is remote from the grid , contracts with mining co's were critical to startup.
I paste a snip from NZ:

Geothermal investigations at Ngawha began in the 1960s, including the first well. Sixteen other wells were drilled between 1977 and 1983 to depths ranging from 600 to 2300 m. The investigations identified a large but relatively low enthalpy resource with the wells producing fluid at 225-230°C with high levels of dissolved minerals including boron and mercury. Thirteen of the wells were tested, of which six were good producers with a mean fluid enthalpy of about 975 kJ/kg. Gas ratios suggest that a deeper reservoir at 300-320°C is contributing to the system and one well proved these temperatures exist.

The current development at Ngawha is a joint venture between local Maori interests and Top Energy which commissioned two 4.5 MW binary units in 1998. Resource consents were granted for only a 12 year period on the condition that development should not cause any detectable changes to the surface features because of their high cultural value. Further expansion of the Ngawha project is just underway with Top Energy bringing the project up to a total of 25 MW. The expansion will include additional Ormat binary cycle units.

Europeans and USSR have been using this since near the turn of he 20th century .
Some for house and city heating only other for power gen.
Easy to look it up and so much about, that I wont bother with links.

We need to understand the motivatiothat Oil and Coal AND Nuclear extraction co's have in keeping the status quo before we can understand the subject.


I have followed developments here in Australia for the last few years. There are is a large and excellent resource here. Geodynamics is the company that is most advanced in field work. They are close to completing a proof of concept and hope to have a 1MW pilot plant operating by the end of the year. They have a great website.

Hot Dry Rock geothermal energy has nothing to do with volcanoes. The heat is created by the radioactive decay of granite under depth and pressure. The rocks are fractured by pumping water into them. Water is then pumped down one hole and extracte from the other. In Geodynamics' recent testing the water came out at 225 degrees C.

Geothermal can provide baseload power at low cost over decades, with no GHG emissions or pollution, before temperatures decrease. There is high, upfront capital cost with expensive drilling equipment but low running costs. Geodynamics are operating a long way from the national grid and will probably have to foot the cost of transmission lines once they scale up. Coal plants never had to meet those costs.


The commercialization of plasma torch drills could make this a lot easier.

Andrey Levin

P.S.: regular steam entering the turbine at coal power plant has temperature of 600-630 Celsius with conversion efficiency of about 40%. The lower temperature of steam, the lower efficiency.

John Taylor

The Yellowstone super volcano has extensive heat reserves over a rather extended area. If tapped, this alone could provide all of the power currently used in the entire USA for a period of 3,000 years presuming no additional heat was added from below.

Iceland and New Zealand tap similar systems to provide a significant portion of their energy, and many places in the USA already use some geothermal power.

Considering the world energy shortage, developing some of the USA's vast geothermal potential seems like a reasonable idea.


Organic rankine cycle....


If the outlet temperature is only 225°C, use natural gas for superheating the steam. All energy that goes into superheating is converted with 100% (well, almost) efficiency in a steam turbine.

Let geothermal carry the bulk for the energy input to the steam cycle.

Natural gas has an adiabatic combustion temperature of around 2000°C, so by cooling the combustion gasses down to 250°C by superheating steam would result in 88% efficiency of converting fossil energy into electricity. The remaining energy in the combustion gasses is used to produce more steam.

This is a pragmatic way of decent quality steam in a geothermal plant.

With 225°C hot water you can realistically produce steam @ 23 bar a. Thus superheating to more than 400°C is probably unfeasible (depending on condensation temperature and turbine efficiency).

Such a hybrid concept would not be 100% renewable (unless biogas is used in stead of natural gas), but it would be a nice way of getting the most out of both ressources.


DOE statistics 2007.
7% of power generation in USA from renewable energy.
4% of USA renewable electricity generation from geothermal.
Other sources quote 5% of USA energy consumption.
and 8.5% of USA energy consumption.
Some are finding ways of making electricity.
Its not rocket science to see how the turbines, steam engine whatever simply need be appropriately designed.
in much the same way as any pump, turbine or propeller is matched to both rpm and flow/volume.
super critical steam is not required.


gabba: I've even heard of hybrid geothermal/solar systems.


Chena Hot Springs in Alaska has a state-of-the-art 400 kilowatt geothermal system that uses 165 degree water to boil the refrigerants, which in turn powers a turbine (and I'm quoting the article) at 1000 MPH. This is a closed loop system, where approx. 90 percent of the components are off the shelf items manufactured by Carrier.
The resort electrifies and heats the entire facility, plus maintaining an ice museum year 'round. Google it to get more details.


I forgot to mention that this system can operate with water temp. as low as 100 degrees, so they're looking at amandoned coal mines, oil wells and gas wells as hot water "feed stock" to operate their geothermal system.
Imagine the possibilities if they are successful.

More drivel from non-engineer "true believers", whonever botherd to taker those tough math and science or engineering courses. These are peopel who really, really, believe that "free energy" is really free,and chaeap to harness. And abundant.

And the only reason we don't already use is on a massive scale, Must Be a "CONSPIRACY".

Geothermal is used very sparingly for a few obvious reasons:

a) One, the geothermal resources rapidly cool down and it is difficult to find large enough geologic heat reservoirs to use.
The article posted about the difficulty of finding sufficient amounts of heat in the reservoirs.

b) The working fluid, usually hot water or wet steam, is very contaminated with corrosives, and saturated with toxics. Toxic poison gases such as SOx or H2S "rotten eggs", is not uncommon, at all.

c) The thermal efficiency of such facilities is very marginal. The concept of enthalpy and "useful heat" is beyond their ken.

d) Producing wet steam that doesn't produce much electricity and tears apart the turbines with erosive water droplets that are also corrosive, never dawns of these "true believers", who are literally scientific "know-nothings".

e) The idea of upgrading the low level heated fluid, to a more useful higher heat and dry steam form, adds complexity but might serve as a model for more widespread utilization. But then it really isn't a "fossil fuel free" site anymore is it?

f) finding places that have all these attributes is tough enough, but finding one that is near demand is even tougher. Other wise, obtaining approval for long transmission lines is problematical, and line-losses rapidly mount.

Are there isolated instances of using geothermal? Almost all are tour-de-force inplementations. Overseas, the use of geothermal is much more widepread for local space heating and is a much better use of the low level heat, despite the inflexibility.

Could we harness more geothermal sources? Definitely Yes. Will we? yes.

Is it easy, or will it ever amount to a major source? Succinctly NO.

Return to the real world people. The reason that the oddball sources of energy are not widely used, such as solar, wind or geothermal, is that they are all inefficient, expensive to construct, or to operate. These sources produce very expensive energy, and usually intermittently.

Solar and Wind can be easily seen as intermittent, but some geothermal sites need a "rest" of several months to several years, to "regenerate" the heat reservoir. That is long term intermittentcy.

Rush Limbaugh

Mega dittos Stan! You are correct. Renewables will never work, it it is irresponsible to waste R&D money on these pet projects. Look at how Denmark has ruined its landscape with hideous windmills and Germany is ruining there beautiful rooftops with solar PV. Look at how Iceland has ruined its wonderful countryside by irresponsibly exploiting geothermal energy when they could have easily imported fossil fuels from North America, or built nuclear plants. Yes Stan, the only solution is nuclear, nuclear, and more nuclear.


@anon troll
Wow, are you ever behind the times on geothermal technology. Go back to school (you could even try the 5th grade this time) and study up on Enhanced Geothermal Systems and binary power plant systems.


gabba: thanks for your comment about using lower temperature geothermal to augment more conventional gas heating. Most readers would have thought of it but few would have stated it as well.

And to the writer of this:

"More drivel from non-engineer "true believers", who never bothered to take those tough math and science or engineering courses. These are people who really, really, believe that "free energy" is really free,and cheap to harness. And abundant."

(I corrected the quote a little, NBD we all misspell)

True, those who think energy is or will be harnessed without cost are not engineers. But I suspect the readers here know energy is not going to be free or even cheap.

Your objections are about technical difficulties. And ultimately cost. That is why we employee engineers. They solve when it is possible to solve, circumvent what cannot be solved, and recognize - and advise us about - the remainder, problems that can't be dealt with at all.

Yes, geothermal will remain and insignificant industry for the next several years. We should continue development even though that can't help us now, or in the next Presidents term, and probably that of his successor. (at least with Hillary out I can use 'his' with some safety)


I appreciate the comments, but does everything we do have to be on such a grand scale? That's where we went wrong on nuclear power plants. We don't need humungus facilities when you can install a self contained nuclear unit that is about the size of a large hot water tank. You bury it in the ground and the estimated life is 40 years.
Furthermore, this geothermal breakthrough technology that Chena Hot Springs has IS free energy, in that it utilizes hot water that is heated by the earths core. Even the water is fed to the system via gravity, thus eliminating a circulation pump. Will it provide electricity for the entire state of Alaska? Of course not, but it will provide heat and electricity for the entire facility, plus provide electricity for the, soon to be, EVs that they plan to use in their business. By the way, this system has been in operation since 2005 without a hitch in the system.

I agree that wind and solar is a catch as catch can, and not suited for a constant energy source.
Also, for your information, a geothermal system has been in operation, and supplying electricity in California since 1958.
Well, enough "drivel" for today.

Bob Downs

there are all sorts of geothermal energy types ranging
from conversion of latent heat in the near surface ground to huge volcano type sources. And there is a virtually unlimited amount of this type energy available.

There are operating geothermal plants all over the world. Iceland comes to mind.

The Geysers in N. California has something in excess of
400 MW of generating capacity and its available 24/7. Operating costs according to Calpine Power are as low as 2 cents/kwh. This is on par or less than nuke generators. I happen to favor nukes as well.

Expenditure of federal(your tax $) funds for questionable research seems to me to be just a big boondoogle as there is plenty of private money that is being spent and will be spent to exploit these sources.

America is fast becoming super socialistic with various
factions begging(lobbying) to steal from your open wallet. It is a true shame.

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