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INL researchers study developing Enhanced Geothermal Systems

Enhanced Geothermal Energy

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho - A team of researchers at the Idaho National Lab is working on Enhanced Geothermal Systems.

EGS taps into the heat flowing in the Earth's crust and transforms it into a source of electricity. Like wind of solar, it is environmentally friendly.

A group of scientists who were researching hydraulic fracking in the Bakken formation in northern Montana are taking the tools they developed on that project and applying the physics of fracturing to EGS research.

The work is being done in Cassia county along the Snake River Plain.

"The potential for electricity generation, there's enough potential to make enough energy for the whole state and for the whole region," said Rob Podgorney, chief scientist in the Environmental and Natural Resource Management Division.

Scientists are making a case to house a lab along the Snake River Plain.

There's a high amount of heat flow through the center part of the Snake River Plain. It's also one of the hottest places at accessible depths in the country.

These scientists also look at other factors like water and permeability, how easy fluids move through the Earth in this area.

The team tested hydraulic stimulation at a site in Cassia county on April 1.

"It's sort of a good test well because it's within a hot system so this team is trying to develop ways to stimulate it and improve it's productivity," said Mitch Pummel, a hydrologist and research scientist with the team.

The team is experimenting with water temperature and pressure to better understand how fracking works.

"How you apply fluid and pressure actually affect the shape of the fracture," said Podgorney.

They look closely at how the rock fracks and if it breaks in straight lines or in patterns.

"And there may be ways to optimize that process and ways to use less water, so that's what we're studying now," said Podgorny.

They hope to present their findings to the Department of Energy in hopes of developing Idaho as a hub for geothermal energy creation.

"It's a home grown energy resource, we should have to worry about our energy coming from Wyoming or just from hydro. There's huge potential and there's a small footprint, it's environmentally friendly," said Podgorney.

Podgorney added with geothermal hydraulic stimulation they are using the same water being pulled from underground, so there is no addition of chemicals that can cause contamination like there could be with fracking for oil or gas.

While EGS is promising, more research is needed to advance the technology so it can be deployed commercially.

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