Geothermal Hope: Pump Water Into Volcano, Turn It Into Power

$43M project planned in central Oregon
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 14, 2012 1:12 PM CST
Geothermal Hope: Pump Water Into Volcano, Turn It Into Power
In this 2008, file photo, a worker steps down from the drilling platform at the Newberry geothermal project near LaPine, Ore.   (AP Photo/Don Ryan, file)

Geothermal energy developers plan to pump 24 million gallons of water into the side of a dormant volcano in central Oregon this summer to demonstrate new technology they hope will give a boost to a green energy sector that has yet to live up to its promise. They hope the water comes back to the surface fast enough and hot enough to create cheap, clean electricity that isn't dependent on sunny skies or stiff breezes. "We know the heat is there," says the president of one of the companies involved, Seattle's AltaRock Energy. "The big issue is can we circulate enough water through the system to make it economic."

Efforts to use the earth's heat to generate power, known as geothermal energy, have been hampered by technical problems and worries that tapping it can cause earthquakes. Even so, the federal government, Google, and other investors are interested enough to bet $43 million on the Oregon project. They are helping AltaRock demonstrate whether the next level in geothermal power development can work on the flanks of Newberrry Volcano, located about 20 miles south of Bend, Ore. The key is a process called hydroshearing, which involves drilling wells into the rock, pumping in water, and drawing out steam. Click for AP's full story. (More geothermal energy stories.)

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