Going 20 kilometers underground, will there be endless energy?

Wind energy, solar energy, geothermal energy, nuclear energy… A large amount of greenhouse gases and global climate change, the development of renewable energy is more and more urgent for human society, so we see more and more wind turbines and solar panels, and we have been working hard to develop nuclear fusion generate electricity.

But geothermal doesn’t seem to be mentioned very often, but in addition to fossil fuels, there is also a huge amount of energy under our feet. Quaise Energy, an independent start-up from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), plans to “drill the earth”, drilling a hole about 20 kilometers deep into the earth’s core to release the earth’s largest untapped energy source – geothermal.

Quaise chose to develop geothermal because it believes that this terawatt-scale clean energy source (1 terawatt = 10¹² watts) has considerable potential. Geothermal is the exploration of the ground and can share resources with fossil fuel industry rigs, supply chains and frameworks without the need to build from scratch.

Plus, a steady stream of geothermal heat isn’t as intermittent as wind and solar, and it’s more accessible than nuclear fusion, which is still working on it. No fuel, no waste, and less than 1% of the land and materials consumed by other renewable energy sources, geothermal seems to be more convenient to “clean”.

Since geothermal has such potential, why is the “sense of existence” not high? In fact, human beings have used geothermal heat a long time ago, such as shallow geothermal heat close to the surface, resulting in hot springs and agricultural greenhouses. Many countries have also built geothermal power stations, but the utilization rate is limited. It’s not that humans don’t want to use geothermal heat, it’s that they can’t. The core of the earth is a “big fireball”. The lower the surface is, the higher the temperature is. The volcanic magma and earthquakes that erupt from time to time on the fault can show how “hot” and how much energy is deep in the ground. This also prevents humans from exploring underground.

Russia’s Kola Superdeep Borehole (Kola ultra-deep well) was a scientific research in the Soviet era. It was intended to dig all the way to the mantle, but after one of the drill holes reached 12,289 meters in 1989, the high temperature of at least 200°C seriously damaged the drill bit, porous rocks, Gases and other fluids, along with emergency funds, seal the hole.

The Kola cave is only about 12 kilometers deep, while Quaise’s ambition is to possibly go to a depth of 20 kilometers at about 500°C. If you want to go further, the “opening” tool is naturally stronger. Quaise is developing a new ultra-deep drilling method: first use traditional rotary drilling to drill into the underground rock formation, and then replace it with high-power millimeter waves to melt, fracture and vaporize hard materials, and then Dig down. It took Soviet scientists more than 20 years to drill about 12 kilometers, and high-power millimeter waves down 20 kilometers, maybe 100 days.

It may be that the high-power millimeter waves that Quaise drilled to new heights have something to do with nuclear fusion. To achieve nuclear fusion, the instrument needs to withstand hundreds of millions of degrees of heat. Researchers in the tokamak design (nuclear fusion reaction device) have found that millimeter waves can greatly heat the plasma. I hope to imitate the research process of the principle of solar nuclear fusion. Cyclotron and millimeter waves are breakthrough results, which are also of great significance to the “underground sun”.

According to Quaise’s plan, the first full-scale hybrid drilling platform combining traditional rotary drilling and millimeter-wave drilling will be built in 2024, and the first ultra-thermally enhanced geothermal system will be used in 2026 to obtain 100 megawatts of thermal energy for several wells. The first fossil fuel power plant to be re-powered with clean geothermal steam will be built in 2028.

Energy has always plagued human beings. If the Quaise project comes true, we have an “inexhaustible” geothermal energy, and the future of mankind may have a new vision.

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