Iceland eyes geothermal energy from magma

Iceland's Krafla geothermal power station resulted from an incident of accidental drilling into subsurface magma of a caldera several years ago. Photo: Wikimedia.org.

Iceland’s Krafla geothermal power station resulted from an incident of accidental drilling into subsurface magma of a caldera several years ago. Photo: Wikimedia.org.

According to an Aug. 28th report on the WorldBulletin.net website, Iceland may become the first country to generate electricity from volcanic magma.

If plans to proceed next year are successful, up to three percent of the nation’s energy requirements could be generated from this procedure, according to Gudmundur Omar Fridleifsson, identified by World Bulletin as the chief geologist of the Iceland Deep Drilling Project (IDDP). The IDDP consists of a partnership between three energy companies — National Power Company, HS Energy Ltd., and Reykjavik Energy — plus the government’s National Energy Authority of Iceland.

“Iceland created the first magma-based geothermal energy system after accidentally drilling approximately two kilometers into a chamber of molten lava in a caldera called Krafla in the north of the island five years ago” notes the article.

With this incident, scientists from IDDP decided to use the magma to generate 36 megawatts of electricity in 2012. However, the team’s plans were put on hold when a valve failed during the process and the well had to be closed down.

Fridleifsson related that “The power company then considered either reconditioning the well or drilling a new well to the magma chamber for steam production.” He noted that “The IDDP program is now ready to drill the next well, IDDP-2, but this time not in Krafla, in the Reykjanes geothermal field in south west Iceland, which has seawater salinity and in many respects resembles black smoker systems on the ocean floor.” The IDDP-2 project will incorporate some modifications and improvements in the well design and flow line structure.

Described as “A revolution for the energy world”, the process involves pumping water down during drilling. This “hydrofractures the hot rock next to the magma body…” reports the article. Then the process is reversed, to attract the fluid into the well.

It creates a Geothermal System forming an EGS-Magma system. IDDP claims that by this drilling, they “unintentionally” created the world’s first Magma-EGS system.


Magma could be source for geothermal energy in Iceland and other countries. Photo via Inhabit.com.

Magma could be source for geothermal energy in Iceland and other countries. Photo via Inhabit.com.


Citing data from the International Energy Agency, World Bulletin emphasizes that “This new method of generating electricity could be important for Iceland, where geothermal energy and hydroelectricity make up almost 95 percent of the energy production and 85 percent of homes are heated by geothermal ….”

The potential of producing geothermal energy from magma is exciting many power industry professionals worldwide. Mustafa Kumral, an associate professor of geological engineering at Istanbul Technical University, told World Bulletin that “New Zealand and Iceland are experienced countries with geothermal works because of their geological locations and geothermal sources.” He noted that, for these countries, geothermal power and thermal processes “are very common due to volcanism. Besides, they have more opportunities compared to other countries” he added.

Turkey, with around approximately 14 inactive volcanoes, is also considering magma as a geothermal power source.

California’s Salton Sea becoming geothermal energy hotspot

Group of 7 geothermal plants at Salton Sea site generate enough electricity to power 100,000 homes. Photo: Clui.org.

Group of 7 geothermal plants at Salton Sea site generate enough electricity to power 100,000 homes. Photo: Clui.org.

Large-scale exploitation of the potential of geothermal energy to generate electric power seems to be becoming a reality at Southern California’s Salton Sea, a highly saline lake in the Imperial Valley formed by floodwaters from the Colorado River in 1905.

Described by a May 3rd Barron’s article as “one of few areas in the U.S. rich with geothermal resources” and a possible “launch site for geothermal energy in the U.S.”, the area attracts geothermal development because of its unique topographical access to subsurface geothermal formations. As Barron’s explains,

The shallow, salty lake sits atop the San Andreas fault, 226 feet below sea level. About a mile beneath Salton’s southern tip, the earth burns at 680 degrees Fahrenheit, a perfect place to convert naturally occurring heat into electricity.

According to the Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI), the Salton Sea already hosts several clusters of geothermal plants, creating :a network of deep wells drilled in the geothermal field” that “allow water, heated by the earth’s mantle, to come to the surface and to power electrical generators.” The largest of these geothermal production clusters, notes a CLUI article, is a group of seven plants owned by the CalEnergy Company.

CalEnergy’s electricity, sold to the local power utility, is channeled into the power grid. “The seven plants in this field produce enough electricity to power over 100,000 homes” reports CLUI.

Barron’s describes other efforts by a local utility, Imperial Irrigation District (IID), to develop geothermal resources. Since it owns of the land, IID hopes to farm geothermal energy profits back into restoration projects to preserve the Salton Sea, which is receding, particularly from the effects of drought.

But geothermal development isn’t necessarily easy or cheap, explains Barron’s.

The tricky part will be to find viable locations for injection wells, which can be several miles deep depending on the area. After that, the plants are essentially self-sufficient. Hot water is pumped to the surface, where it turns to steam, driving turbines connected to generators. The steam is then converted to water and pumped back into the ground.

IID estimates that a single 50-megawatt plant might cost $300 million. Furthermore, viability of geothermal development depends on cooperation from the state of California, which “must approve building a $2.5 billion transmission line that would plug the facility into the grid.” ■

Philippines: New geothermal project launched on Mindoro Island

Simulation of Montelago geothermal plant. Graphic: Wikimedia.

Simulation of Montelago geothermal plant. Graphic: Wikimedia.

The Philippines, the world’s largest consumer of geothermally produced electricity, is currently operating ten geothermal power plants — second only to the USA in worldwide production of geothermal energy.

This month, yet another major geothermal plant, this one on the island of Mindoro, was launched by Emerging Power, Inc. (EPI) under power supply agreements with Occidental Mindoro Electric Cooperative, Inc. and Oriental Mindoro Electric Cooperative, Inc. for the output of the company’s Montelago geothermal plant.

Mindoro Island site of geothermal plant. Map: InterAksyon.

Mindoro Island site of geothermal plant. Map: InterAksyon.

According to the news site InterAksyon, EPI is constructing the new plant in Barangays Montelago, Montemayor and Melgar B in Naujan, Oriental Mindoro. The facility is designed to generate 40 megawatts (MW) of power, with each cooperative receiving 20 MW.

Under a geothermal renewable energy service contract with the Philippine Department of Energy, EPI plans to commence drilling to tap geothermal energy later this year, with completion and power generation targeted for mid-2016.

In addition to providing additional electricity supply, the geothermal plant is projected to reduce the cost of Mindoro’s electricity rates by 40 percent. Electricity output from the new plant is expected to further stabilize power cost, bringing rates down even further by 2030, according to an EPI spokesman.

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Geothermal power plant, venting steam. Photo via Navigant Research.

Finding innovative ways to improve the production of energy — particularly for electric power generation — that are more efficient, sustainable, and environmentally sensitive, is crucial for the future of our planet.

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Stillwater hybrid solar-geothermal power plant in Nevada. Photo via Inhabitat.com.

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