Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Packing Heat: New Fluid Makes Untapped Geothermal Energy Cleaner

17.04.2015

Nontoxic solution could cut water use in half for enhanced geothermal systems

More American homes could be powered by the earth’s natural underground heat with a new, nontoxic and potentially recyclable liquid that is expected to use half as much water as other fluids used to tap into otherwise unreachable geothermal hot spots.


Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s new geothermal stimulation fluid could make geothermal power production more environmentally friendly and less costly where conventional geothermal doesn’t work. The nontoxic fluid is designed to be used in enhanced geothermal systems, where fluids are injected into drilled wells that lead to underground geothermal reservoirs. The fluid expands when exposed to carbon dioxide underground, which creates tiny, but deep cracks in otherwise impermeable rock.

The fluid might be a boon to a new approach to geothermal power called enhanced geothermal systems. These systems pump fluids underground, a step that’s called “reservoir stimulation,” to enable power production where conventional geothermal doesn’t work.

The new reservoir stimulation fluid features an environmentally friendly polymer that greatly expands the fluid’s volume, which creates tiny cracks in deep underground rocks to improve power production. This fluid could also substantially reduce the water footprint and cost of enhanced geothermal systems. A paper describing the fluid has been published by the Royal Society of Chemistry in an advance online version of the journal Green Chemistry.

“Our new fluid can make enhanced geothermal power production more viable,” said lead fluid developer Carlos Fernandez, a chemist at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. “And, though we initially designed the fluid for geothermal energy, it could also make unconventional oil and gas recovery more environmentally friendly.”

Natural power beneath us
Geothermal power is generated by tapping the heat that exists under the Earth’s surface to extract steam and turn power plant turbines. Conventional geothermal power plants rely on the natural presence of three things: underground water, porous rock and heat. Existing U.S. geothermal power plants generate up to 3.4 gigawatts of energy, making up about 0.4 percent of the nation’s energy supply.

Enhanced geothermal power can be generated at sites where heat exists, but isn’t easily accessible because of impermeable rock or insufficient water. A 2006 report led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimates enhanced geothermal systems could boost the nation’s geothermal energy output 30-fold to more than 100 gigawatts, or enough to power 100 million typical American homes.

Interested in this potential, DOE has funded five enhanced geothermal system demonstration projects across the country. At one demonstration project in Nevada, enhanced geothermal methods increased a conventional geothermal plant’s productivity by 38 percent. But the use of enhanced geothermal systems has been limited due to technical challenges and concerns over their cost and heavy use of water.

Creating enhanced geothermal systems requires injecting millions of gallons of water – a valuable resource in the arid American West, where enhanced geothermal has the most potential. That water is sometimes mixed with a very small amount of chemicals to help the fluid better create and spread tiny cracks underground, which ultimately extends the life of a geothermal power plant.

Some geothermal reservoir stimulation fluids are similar to oil and gas hydraulic fracturing fluids in that a small percentage of their volume can include proprietary chemicals, according to a 2009 paper in Geothermics and other sources. These chemicals can be toxic if ingested, leading geothermal developers to retrieve and treat used fluids. This protects aquifers, but increases the cost of power generation as well. Environmental reviews must be conducted to receive permits for enhanced geothermal injections.

A better solution
PNNL’s fluid is a solution of water and 1 percent polyallylamine, a chemical made of a long carbon chain with nitrogen attachments that’s similar to well-understood polymers used in medicine. The fluid is pumped into a well drilled at a geothermal hot spot. Soon after, workers also inject pressurized carbon dioxide, which could come from carbon captured at fossil fuel power plants.

Within 20 seconds, the polyallylamine and carbon dioxide link together to form a hydrogel that expands the fluid up to 2.5 times its original volume. The swelling gel pushes against the rocks, causing existing cracks to expand while also creating new ones. The expansion is expected to cut in half the amount of water and time needed to open up an enhanced geothermal reservoir, which shrinks the cost of power generation.

Passing the test
To test the fluid’s performance, geophysicist and co-author Alain Bonneville led the development of an experimental set up. Five cylindrical samples of rocks, about the size of C batteries, taken near a working enhanced geothermal power plant in California, were placed inside a high-pressure, high-temperature test cell created by the PNNL team. Small amounts of the fluid and liquid carbon dioxide were injected into the test cell. Pressure and temperature were gradually adjusted to match the conditions of underground geothermal reservoirs.

The researchers found their fluid consistently created small, but effective cracks in rock samples. Some of the new fractures were too small to be seen with a high-resolution imaging method called X-ray microtomography. But when they watched fluids such as water or carbon dioxide being injected, the team saw liquids moving through the previously impermeable rock samples. Moving liquids did not pass through rock samples that were injected with plain water or the common hydraulic fracturing chemicals sodium dodecyl sulfate and xanthan gum. The team reasoned larger-scale tests might produce bigger cracks.

Reduce, reuse & recycle
Two other benefits are the fluid’s potential to be recycled and cut costs. The fluid could be recycled by reducing or stopping the fluids that are pumped underground, or by injecting an acid. Modeling shows either would cause the hydrogel to disassemble into its original components: the water-polyallylamine solution and carbon dioxide. A pump would move the separated fluids to the surface, where they would be retrieved and used again. The fluid’s recyclability hasn’t been tested in the lab yet, however.

The operational cost of enhanced geothermal systems could also be reduced with the new fluid. With less liquid to pump underground, there will be less water to purchase, capture and treat, which lowers project costs. However, a detailed analysis is needed to precisely quantify by how much the fluid could lower enhanced geothermal’s price tag.

Additional studies are needed to further evaluate the fluid’s performance for enhanced geothermal systems. Fernandez and his team are planning lab studies to examine the fluid’s recyclability and its ability to fracture larger pieces of rock. Their ultimate goal is to conduct a controlled field test.

The Geothermal Technologies Office within the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy funded this research. This study used X-ray computed tomography and magic angle spinning nuclear magnetic resonance instruments at EMSL, the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory DOE user facility at PNNL.

The team also recently started a PNNL-funded study to examine a similar fluid for unconventional oil and gas recovery. The oil and gas extraction fluid being considered would use a different polyamine that is related to the chemical used in the geothermal extraction fluid. Both fluids are stable and can withstand extreme temperatures, pressures and acidity levels. Many of the fluids used for oil and gas recovery degrade, making them less effective over time. That characteristic, combined with the fluid’s decreased water use, its nontoxic nature and its potential to be recycled, makes the PNNL fluid a candidate for oil and gas extraction.

PAPER: HB Jung, KC Carroll, S Kabilan, DJ Heldebrant, D Hoyt, L Zhong, T Varga, S Stephens, L Adams, A Bonneville, A Kuprat & CA Fernandez, “Stimuli-responsive/rheoreversible hydraulic fracturing fluids as a greener alternative to support geothermal and fossil energy production,” Green Chemistry Advance Online, March 25, 2015, DOI: 10.1039/C4GC01917B, http://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2015/gc/c4gc01917b#!divAbstract.

EDITORIAL: W Leitner, “The subject of ‘fracking’ in Green Chemistry,” Green Chemistry, online March 31, 2015, http://blogs.rsc.org/gc/2015/03/31cent-publication-in-green-chemistry-on-fracking-%E2%80%93-open-forum/

Interdisciplinary teams at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory address many of America's most pressing issues in energy, the environment and national security through advances in basic and applied science. Founded in 1965, PNNL employs 4,300 staff and has an annual budget of more than $1 billion. It is managed by Battelle for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science. As the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, the Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information on PNNL, visit the PNNL News Center, or follow PNNL on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter.

EMSL, the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, is a national scientific user facility sponsored by the Department of Energy's Office of Science. Located at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., EMSL offers an open, collaborative environment for scientific discovery to researchers around the world. Its integrated computational and experimental resources enable researchers to realize important scientific insights and create new technologies. Follow EMSL on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Contact Information
Franny White
PIO
frances.white@pnnl.gov
Phone: 509-375-6904
Mobile: 360-333-4793

Franny White | newswise
Further information:
http://www.pnnl.gov/

Further reports about: Department EMSL Energy Fluid Geothermal Green Laboratory PNNL carbon dioxide chemicals dioxide fluids geothermal power heat

More articles from Power and Electrical Engineering:

nachricht Batteries with better performance and improved safety
23.11.2017 | Empa - Eidgenössische Materialprüfungs- und Forschungsanstalt

nachricht Researchers take next step toward fusion energy
16.11.2017 | Texas A&M University

All articles from Power and Electrical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Frictional Heat Powers Hydrothermal Activity on Enceladus

Computer simulation shows how the icy moon heats water in a porous rock core

Heat from the friction of rocks caused by tidal forces could be the “engine” for the hydrothermal activity on Saturn's moon Enceladus. This presupposes that...

Im Focus: Nanoparticles help with malaria diagnosis – new rapid test in development

The WHO reports an estimated 429,000 malaria deaths each year. The disease mostly affects tropical and subtropical regions and in particular the African continent. The Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC teamed up with the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME and the Institute of Tropical Medicine at the University of Tübingen for a new test method to detect malaria parasites in blood. The idea of the research project “NanoFRET” is to develop a highly sensitive and reliable rapid diagnostic test so that patient treatment can begin as early as possible.

Malaria is caused by parasites transmitted by mosquito bite. The most dangerous form of malaria is malaria tropica. Left untreated, it is fatal in most cases....

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Desert ants cannot be fooled

23.11.2017 | Life Sciences

By saving cost and energy, the lighting revolution may increase light pollution

23.11.2017 | Earth Sciences

Retreating permafrost coasts threaten the fragile Arctic environment

23.11.2017 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>