Google.org, the philanthropic arm of the Internet search giant, has announced $10.7 million in grants to three organizations working to advance Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) energy technology.
While the traditional geothermal approach relies on finding naturally occurring pockets of steam and hot water, EGS expands the potential of geothermal energy by replicating these conditions, fracturing hot rock, circulating water through the system, and using the resulting steam to produce electricity in a conventional turbine. A recent MIT report on EGS estimates that just 2 percent of the geothermal heat located in the continental United States at a depth between three and ten kilometers — within the range of current drilling technology — is the equivalent of more than 2,500 times the country's total annual energy use.
Awarded as part of Google.org's Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal initiative, which focuses on solar thermal power, advanced wind, EGS, and other potential breakthrough technologies, grants include $6.25 million to AltaRock Energy to develop innovative technologies to achieve significant cost reductions and improved performance in EGS projects, and $4 million to Potter Drilling to develop new approaches to lower the cost and expand the range of deep hard-rock drilling necessary for large-scale EGS applications. In addition, $489,521 was awarded to the Southern Methodist University Geothermal Lab to improve understanding of the size and distribution of geothermal energy resources in North America, and to update geothermal mapping.
"Innovation is the path to massive quantities of cleaner, cheaper energy," said Google.org executive director Larry Brilliant. "The people we're funding today have a real shot at lowering the cost of EGS and bringing us closer to our goal of renewable energy cheaper than coal."