Iceland's Tapping Into Molten Magma for Its Energy

This will be the 'hottest hole' ever created.

by Kastalia Medrano

A company in Iceland is drilling into hot volcanoes to tap energy created by magma, opening the door to a new and extremely powerful source of fuel. New Scientist reported on Friday that the Iceland Deep Drilling Project (IDDP) is currently drilling three miles below Reykjanes, along a tectonic fault line.

The team had to go that deep to reach the highly pressurized juncture at which flowing magma heats up underground seawater. There, conditions are right for what the scientists involved call “supercritical steam,” an energy-rich product somewhere between gas and liquid. Albert Albertsson, assistant director of HS Orka, an Icelandic geothermal-energy company involved in the project, told New Scientist, sinking a well that successfully taps that steam could provide 50 megawatts of energy — 10 times that of a garden-variety geothermal site, enough to power 50,000 homes.

This isn’t the first such well the IDDP has drilled - they also hit magma in the northeast part of the country in 2009 - but it will be the hottest, and that’s what makes it especially exciting. The first well was impressive, but ultimately corroded, and anyway, was never intended to be a long-term source of power that could be applied to the country’s grid. This one is.

Iceland currently favors hydroelectric power. Geothermal energy is expensive to develop, a long-standing roadblock for the industry, even when it puts forth a super cool, new project such as this. These types of technologies usually take years of additional research after their initial execution to become scalable, so this shift won’t be happening overnight, but it definitely looks like this well has the juice to actually facilitate Iceland’s geothermal power, superseding its hydroelectric power. The science also supports the idea that the success of this well has global implications - the harnessing of supercritical steam can be replicated at a number of other sites where the volcanoes are hot enough.

Plus, there might be the potential for Iceland to sell any excess power to Europe through underwater cables. The gist is that this is pretty great news for Iceland, which already gets 100 percent of its electricity from non-fossil fuel sources. Let’s all be more like Iceland.

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