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Revolutionary Plasma Drill Promises To Unlock The Ultimate Clean Energy
GA's Anchorbit and Plasmabit are utterly genius!
What do you think is the ultimate planet-saving clean energy? Nuclear energy? Orbiting solar power? Maybe even nuclear fusion? Well, a brilliant new type of drill is poised to unlock an energy source that might just put these to shame. GA’s Anchorbit and Plasmabit will enable already existing drilling infrastructure from the oil and gas industry to drill down to 6 miles beneath the surface of the Earth! Such deep boreholes can enable geothermal power plants to be built far away from the geothermal hotspots where they are currently constrained. As such, GA could kick-start a global affordable geothermal energy rush, and fling humanity towards net-zero. But why is geothermal energy so planet-friendly? And how can GA unlock global geothermal energy?
So, what is geothermal power? The core of the Earth is super hot, this heat comes from radioactive elements in the magma, and the core still contains a lot of heat from the formation of the planet. In more geologically active places on Earth, like near volcanoes or “hot spots”, this heat bubbles up incredibly close to the surface. In these locations, the rocks only a few hundred feet to a mile or two below the surface are hot enough to flash heat water to steam.
Geothermal energy uses this heat to create power. Multiple boreholes are dug down to the depth at which water can boil, and their ends are connected. Water is then injected down one borehole, at the bottom, it flashes to steam, and the increased pressure shoots this steam up the other borehole. At the surface, this high-pressure steam is used to spin a turbine and generator to make power; then, the steam is cooled back down to water to be reinjected back down.
So, why is geothermal energy so damn good? Well, it has very low carbon emissions at only 26g of carbon dioxide emissions per kWh, meaning it is just as clean as other renewables. However, unlike pretty much any other renewable, geothermal energy is an on-tap energy source. Wind and solar need mega batteries to ensure they can always deliver power, and these batteries have a horrific environmental impact, and even then, sometimes, there isn’t enough charge to meet power demands. Wind and solar also take up vast amounts of space, which can have massive implications for the surrounding ecosystems. As such, geothermal energy is arguably the most sustainable and reliable renewable energy.
Geothermal energy is also surprisingly cheap, at around $69 per MWh; this means it is a little more expensive than other renewables but still way cheaper than fossil fuel energy or nuclear power.
But geothermal energy only accounts for 0.5% of global energy. If it is so good, why isn’t it more popular?
Well, on pretty much all of Earth’s surface, the temperatures needed for geothermal power are between 3.1 miles and 12 miles deep. But drilling that deep is extremely expensive. You see, down there, pressures and temperatures are so high that drill bits get warn down incredibly quickly, meaning they need to be changed regularly. However, bringing the whole drill out of the borehole, replacing the bit and going again is time-consuming and expensive. This problem gets worse the deeper you go. As such, geothermal plants can only really go 1.9 miles deep, any deeper, and it isn’t commercially viable. As there are only a few places on Earth where geothermal power is this close to the surface, geothermal energy has been severely limited.
But this is where GA comes in with their Anchorbit and Plasmabit, which promise to make 6 miles-deep geothermal power plants commercially viable. But how?
Let’s start with the Anchorbit. This system is comprised of two collars behind the drill bit. Each collar has pistons that can move out and hold onto the borehole. When one collar grips the borehole, the other extends downward closer to the drill bit, and then it grips the borehole with its piston to allow the first collar to let go and slide down. This allows Anchorbit to “walk” down the borehole. The Anchorbit acts to stabilise the drill bit, reducing vibrations and increasing the lifespan of the drill bit, meaning less pesky bit changes need to take place. The torque of the drill is put through the Anchorbit rather than the cable going up the shaft; again, this decreases unnecessary vibrations, but it also enables higher torque at the drill bit, which can lead to more efficient drilling.
According to GA, Anchorbit can make drilling to 3.7 miles deep commercially viable for geothermal plants, as it dramatically speeds up the drilling process (which also makes it cheaper).
But, while this can help geothermal energy expand past its current limitations, it isn’t enough to make it a global solution. That is where the Plasmabit comes in.
The Plasmabit takes over from the Anchorbit after 3.7 miles deep. It is a contactless drill bit. It uses a pulse plasma drilling system, that consists of a rotating electric arc torch to blast rock with ionized gas at 6,000 °C (10,800 °F) to break it apart, and a high-pressure water jet to mechanically remove the broken rock and send them back up the pipe to the surface. As it is no-contact, no dill bits need to be replaced, allowing it to drill incredibly deep for very little expenditure. As such, Plasmabit can drill a commercial viable geothermal borehole 6.2 miles deep!
This is enough to enable geothermal energy across much of the UK, US and a large portion of the EU. But it can’t quite unlock universal geothermal power. Luckily, that is where Quaise comes in. I have covered them before, but their contactless millimetre wave drill can in theory drill down to 12 miles deep! They plan to use this technology to convert old coal and gas fired power plants around the world into geothermal power plants by drilling these boreholes next to them.
Both GA and Quaise are still in the development stage, and neither have done a full-scale demonstration. However, their technology really could enable commercially viable geothermal energy anywhere on Earth! As such, geothermal power could soon become one of the most potent and scaleable planet-friendly energies ever, and significantly help us reach net-zero. All thanks to us being able to dig incredibly deep holes!
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