DOE forges ahead with research to power 100M homes

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The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is making available up to $31 million to establish the initial phases of the Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy (FORGE) -- a field laboratory dedicated to cutting-edge research on enhanced geothermal systems (EGS). 

The Newberry Volcano near Bend, Oregon is one of five active Energy Department EGS demonstration projects nationwide. Credit: DOE

Enhanced geothermal systems are engineered reservoirs, created beneath the Earth's surface where there is hot rock but limited pathways through which fluid can flow. During EGS development, underground fluid pathways are safely created, and their size and connectivity increased. These enhanced pathways allow fluid to circulate throughout the hot rock and carry heat to the surface to generate electricity.

Long term, EGS may enable domestic access to a geographically diverse baseload and carbon-free energy resources to the tune of 100 GW -- enough to power about 100 million homes.

"The FORGE initiative is a first-of-its-kind effort to accelerate development of this innovative geothermal technology that could help power our low carbon future," said Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Dave Danielson. "This field observatory will facilitate the development of rigorous and reproducible approaches that could drive down the cost of geothermal energy and further diversify our nation's energy portfolio."

The research and development will focus on techniques to effectively stimulate large fracture networks in various rock types, technologies for imaging and monitoring the evolution of fluid pathways, and long-term reservoir sustainability and management techniques.

The first two phases of the FORGE initiative will focus on selecting a site and an operations team, as well as preparing and fully characterizing the site. In Phase 1, $2 million will be available over one year for selected teams to perform analysis on the suitability of their proposed site and to develop plans for Phase 2. Subject to the availability of appropriations, up to $29 million in funding is planned for Phase 2, during which teams will work to fully instrument, characterize, and permit candidate sites.

Subject to availability, Phase 3 will fund full implementation of FORGE at a single site, managed by a single operations team. This phase will be guided by a collaborative research strategy and executed via annual R&D solicitations designed to improve, optimize, and drive down the costs of deploying EGS. Partners from industry, academia, and the national laboratories will have ongoing opportunities to conduct new R&D at the site in critical research areas such as reservoir characterization, reservoir creation, and reservoir sustainability.

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