Geothermal and fusion technology: Harnessing the Earth’s heat

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Geothermal and fusion technology: Harnessing the Earth’s heat

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Geothermal and fusion technology: Harnessing the Earth’s heat

Subheading text
Using fusion-based tech to harness energy deep within the earth.
    • Author:
    • Author name
      Quantumrun Foresight
    • May 26, 2023

    Quaise, a company born from the collaboration between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)'s Plasma Science and Fusion Center, seeks to exploit the geothermal energy trapped beneath the earth's surface. The firm aims to utilize available technology to harness this energy for sustainable use. By tapping into this renewable energy source, Quaise hopes to significantly contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

    Geothermal fusion technology context

    Quaise plans to drill down two to twelve miles into the earth’s surface using gyrotron-powered millimeter waves to vaporize the rock. Gyrotrons are high-power microwave oscillators that generate electromagnetic radiation at very high frequencies. A glassy surface covers the drilled hole as the rock melts, eliminating the need for cement casings. Then, argon gas is sent down a double straw structure to purge the rocky particles. 

    As water is pumped into the depths, high temperatures make it supercritical, making it five to 10 times more efficient in carrying heat back out. Quaise aims to repurpose coal-based power generation plants to generate electricity from the steam that results from this process. Cost estimates for 12 miles lie at $1,000 USD per meter, and the length can be dug in just 100 days.

    Gyrotrons have developed significantly over the years to support the development of fusion energy technologies. By upgrading to millimeter waves from infrared, Quaise enhances drilling efficiency. For example, eliminating the need for casings cuts 50 percent of costs. Direct energy drills also mitigate wear and tear as no mechanical process occurs. However, while very promising on paper and in laboratory tests, this process has yet to prove itself in the field. The company aims to repower its first coal plant by 2028.

    Disruptive impact 

    One of the significant advantages of Quaise's geothermal energy technology is that it does not require additional land space, unlike other renewable energy sources such as solar or wind. As such, countries can reduce their carbon dioxide emissions without compromising on other land-use activities, such as agriculture or urban development.

    The potential success of this technology may also have far-reaching geopolitical implications. Countries that rely on energy imports from other nations, such as oil or natural gas, may no longer need to do so if they can tap into their geothermal resources. This development could shift global power dynamics and reduce the likelihood of conflict over energy resources. Additionally, the cost-effectiveness of geothermal energy technology may challenge expensive renewable solutions, ultimately leading to a more competitive and affordable energy market.

    While the transition to geothermal energy may create new job opportunities, it may also require energy industry labor to change their subsector. However, unlike other renewable energy sources that require specialized skills, such as solar panel installation or wind turbine maintenance, geothermal energy technology utilizes upgraded versions of existing mechanisms. Finally, Quaise's success may also pose a significant challenge to traditional oil companies, which could see a decline in demand for their products at an unprecedented rate. 

    Implications of geothermal fusion technology

    Broader implications of advancements in geothermal technology include:

    • Every country potentially accessing a domestic and inexhaustible source of energy, leading to a more equitable distribution of resources and opportunities, particularly in developing countries.
    • Better protection of sensitive ecosystems and indigenous-owned lands, as the need to dig into them to find raw energy resources decreases.
    • An improved possibility of reaching net-zero emissions before 2100. 
    • A decrease in the influence of oil-rich nations on world politics and economics.
    • Increased local revenue through the sale of geothermal energy to the grid. Additionally, adopting geothermal technology can reduce the cost of fuel, potentially leading to more affordable goods and services.
    • Potential environmental impacts during the construction and operation of geothermal power plants, including water usage and waste material disposal.
    • Significant technological advancements, including more efficient and cost-effective energy storage solutions, and improvements in drilling and energy generation techniques.
    • New jobs created in the renewable energy industry and other industries shifting away from fossil fuels. 
    • More government incentives and policies to encourage investment and development in the industry. 

    Questions to consider

    • What complications do you see in the world shifting to geothermal energy?
    • Will all countries adopt this approach if it becomes feasible?

    Insight references

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