Geothermal Energy Is a Strong Contender for the Future of Energy
Jeffrey Heimgartner posted on August 03, 2018 |
Researchers at Georgia Tech College of Engineering hope to gain insight into harnessing geothermal e...

Energy may be everywhere, but human dependence on it has reach an unimaginable level and shows no signs of slowing down. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the United States produced approximate 87.5 quadrillion Btu in 2017, which was equal to about 89.6 percent of U.S. energy consumption. About 77.6 percent of this energy involved fossil fuels—coal, natural gas and petroleum.

As energy consumption grows, it creates a gap between energy produced and energy consumed. Scientists continue to seek new ways to fill this gap with cleaner, renewable sources. Associate Professor Sheng Dai at Georgia Tech’s College of Engineering is focused on one promising energy source from the Earth itself: geothermal energy.

Assistant Professor Sheng Dai. (Image courtesy of Georgia Tech.)
Assistant Professor Sheng Dai. (Image courtesy of Georgia Tech.)
“I suspect that deep geothermal energy is going to make a big impact on the state of clean energy,” Dai said. “Long term, it’s more environmentally friendly and efficient. Plus, it doesn’t rely on other environmental factors. For instance, with solar energy, you’ll have low energy output if it’s overcast or dusty.”

Although other sources can bridge the energy gap, individually they can’t keep up with demand. “The magnitude of energy needed to power our daily lives is tremendous,” Dai said. “There is no one energy source that can solve this problem. If we don’t look to other sources of energy, we won’t be able to keep pace with global energy needs.”

That is where geothermal energy could be a massive benefit. Dai is working with the National Science Foundation and DOE to develop a solution for the main issue associated with geothermal energy—how to harness its power. He plans on using tools he developed to drill on a DOE testing site in Utah. Before that can happen, Dai and his team will need to perform lab work to assess this previously untested location’s viability as a testing site.

Geothermal energy is a renewable and clean energy. (Image courtesy of Geothermal Resources Council.)
Geothermal energy is a renewable and clean energy. (Image courtesy of Geothermal Resources Council.)
The team will focus on two types of geothermal energy: shallow and deep. Shallow geothermal energy allows for the efficient heating and cooling of buildings, while deep geothermal energy has the potential to provide significantly more clean, renewable energy. The latter kind of drilling starts at about 3km below the Earth’s surface, where temperatures could be above 300°C.

“We are pretty far from commercializing geothermal energy,” Dai said. “There are still a lot of unknowns. We don’t have data on how geomaterials will behave 3 to 5km down. We also have to consider the long-term effects of running water into the ground and how the rocks will respond.”

Interested in learning more about innovative technology to help produce and save energy? Check out Using Gold Stars to Improve Solar Energy Storage and Printable, Flexible, Organic Solar Cells Are Coming.

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