Geothermal energy plant in Iceland — WikiCC
For decades nuclear fusion has been heralded as the future of energy with its compact size, powerful output, zero emissions and zero radioactive waste (in theory). But it has remained elusive. Even with recent developments it could still be several decades until wide-spread fusion power is available. Time the Earth can’t afford to wait. But, a company spawned from MIT may have come up with a better solution altogether, geothermal energy anywhere in the world. This begs the question, is fusion dead? And is geothermal the future?
Before we dive into geothermal energy, we first need to understand what is wrong with our current energy sources. See, we all know that fossil fuel power plants are bad. They spit out insane levels of carbon dioxide, causing climate change. To solve this, we have built nuclear, solar and wind alternatives. These don’t emit any carbon, but they have their own problems. Nuclear creates horrific nuclear waste while wind and solar take up vast amounts of land, causing biodiversity to drop and pushing ecosystems to the brink.
Inside JET an experimental fusion reactor — JET
That is why fusion has always been seen as the ideal energy solution as it has no emissions, no radioactive waste (in theory), massive power output and is really compact. It’s just that recreating the Sun on Earth and trying to get power out of it is unbelievably hard.
But, another form of energy also ticks all of the same boxes as fusion and it is far simpler, cheaper and more accessible. Geothermal.
Geothermal energy plants get their power from the immense heat of the Earth’s core. The deeper you go the hotter it gets. So, by drilling a deep hole we can find hot enough rocks to flash boil water (500⁰C). Then, simply inject water down there, let the steam rush out and use it to spin a turbine and hey presto! You have heaps of zero-emission power.
As geothermal plants are so simple they can be relatively cheap, easy to build, use less material and be far more compact than any other form of energy. Plus, the only byproduct is a little steam. Geothermal really seems like the ideal energy solution with the most negligible environmental impact.
There is only one problem. Those hot rocks are very, very deep underground. They are nearer the surface in some unique places like Iceland, which means we can easily drill holes deep enough there. But everywhere else on Earth they lie 12 miles below the surface. That is nearly twice as deep as the deepest hole ever dug!
The Kola Superdeep Borehole in Russia is the deepest hole ever dug at 7.5 miles — WikiCC
This is where Quaise Energy comes in.
Quaise is a startup with its roots in MIT. They have developed a device known as a gyrotron that can blast a hole 12 miles into the Earth, unlocking geothermal energy anywhere on the globe.
A gyrotron is effectively a particle accelerator, except rather than the particles going around in a big circle, they are fired out of it at insane speeds. Quaise’s gyrotron is so powerful that it can literally vaporise rock, even at a distance of 12 miles. So, simply point it downward, turn it on, wait a few days and you have yourself a geothermal borehole!
A gyrotron used in a fusion reactor — WikiCC
Obviously there is a lot more to it than that, such as geological surveys, plasma management, supporting the borehole and powering such a powerful device. But none of these are really that complicated in the grand scheme of things.
For now, Quaise is still developing this technology. But they are on track to have the first prototype complete in 2024, the first deep geothermal plant built by 2026 and starting commercial operations in 2028, which is all really soon!
Sounds great doesn’t it? We may have the ultimate clean energy by 2028! Well, it gets even better.
Fossil fuel power plants already have the giant turbines and water supplies needed for geothermal energy. Quaise wants to ‘recycle’ these outdated plants and switch them to geothermal. All they need to do is remove the old furnace, drill a massive hole and hook it up to the turbine.
So, Quaise’s massive drill could be the quickest and cheapest way to switch the entire world’s energy supply to carbon neutral. We only have a decade or so to stop the horrific damages we are inflicting on the Earth, so this speed and cost savings are significant.
But this also means that Quaises’s recycled energy plants would also use far less new material than any other form of carbon neutral power. Solar and wind farms need mega batteries, miles of new power lines, loads of rare materials and lots of industry to build, which all has a massive environmental impact. So Quaise’s technology seems to have the most negligible ecological impact of any energy source.
So, has Quaise solved the climate crisis and killed fusion power?
This is a new technology and no one has ever dug that deep before. The challenges faced by Quaise are enormous. Who knows, it could end up being far too expensive or have terrible geological consequences like Earthquakes. But digging a really deep hole seems like a far simpler, easier and more practical solution to the climate crisis than sci-fi fusion reactors, doesn’t it?