What if power companies could drill a hole deep enough to tap energy from the superhot rocks buried 12 miles beneath the Earth's surface?
Reaching that deep into the Earth's crust would allow power companies to create gouts of supercritical heated water that could be used to power turbines and create emission-free electricity.
That's exactly what the founders of Quaise Energy want to do -- give utilities a way to build power plants that rely on geothermal energy rather than fossil fuels. And they're doing it using a novel drilling system coming out of the same MIT Plasma and Fusion Center that gave rise to the nuclear fusion startup, Commonwealth Fusion Systems.
"Our technology allows us to access energy anywhere in the world, at a scale far greater than wind and solar, enabling future generations to thrive in a world powered with abundant clean energy," said Quaise Energy's chief executive Carlos Araque in a recent statement.
These MIT researchers are pioneering a new drilling technology called millimeter wave drilling. Instead of using mechanical drill bits and chemicals, Quaise Energy's technology liquefies rocks using something akin to a microwave to create its wells.
The technology can ostensibly withstand temperatures and conditions that traditional drilling technologies can't, which will open up access to these deep deep reserves of heat within the Earth.
“The ubiquity and constancy of deep geothermal energy is tantalizing but economically inaccessible with conventional drilling technologies,” said Allison Hinckley, Senior Associate at Fine Structure Ventures, which was part of a group of investors which recently poured $40 million into Quaise to fund its commercialization. “Quaise’s radically different drilling technology offers a path to access this resource at a global scale with commensurate reductions in carbon emissions.”
Within two years, Quaise hopes to have its drilling technology ready for field deployment and expects that its first geothermal power plants will be ready to come online by the end of the decade.
“We’re leveraging some 70 years of research toward nuclear fusion as an energy source,” Quaise co-founder Matt Houde, told Renewable Energy Magazine last year. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel because fusion has pushed this technology to the point where it can serve our purposes. We simply have to optimize it for deep drilling.”
The next step will be to continue testing the drilling technology at a site at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. There, a powerful gyratron will be used to simulate the drilling process Quaise intends to bring to power plants around the country and around the world.
“Next, we’ll go to the field for a 1000:1 demonstration.We are developing a prototype MMW drilling rig for that purpose,” Houde said. “It’s a matter of proving out the MMW process at deeper and deeper depths.”
Some of the $40 million the company raised will go to continue those testing and development efforts, according to the company. "We need a massive amount of carbon-free energy in the coming decades," said Mark Cupta, Managing Director at Prelude Ventures, a venture capital firm which also invested in the company. "Quaise Energy offers one of the most resource-efficient and nearly infinitely scalable solutions to power our planet. It is the perfect complement to our current renewable solutions, allowing us to reach baseload sustainable power in a not so distant future."