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Terawatt-scale geothermal energy may be on the way

"Geothermal energy is power-dense, virtually unlimited, and available everywhere on the planet."
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer

A company dedicated to unlocking geothermal renewable energy just closed a Series A to help test out a novel drilling technology. Quaise Energy announced the $40M round along with upcoming demonstration targets.

Geothermal energy has been in the news recently and is often described near-mythically as the only renewable, clean source of energy capable of providing baseload power for the transition away from fossil fuels. But geothermal reserves, literally reservoirs of hot water, are typically found well over a mile underground, presenting logistical challenges when it comes to energy exploitation. Quaise thinks it has a novel solution through a millimeter-wave drilling technology.

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"A rapid transition to clean energy is one of the biggest challenges faced by humanity," says Arunas Chesonis, Managing Partner of Safar Partners, which participated in the round. "Geothermal energy can provide a lot more power using fewer resources. We have to approach the clean energy transition from both of those angles. Quaise's solution makes us optimistic for a future where clean, renewable energy will secure the future of our planet." 

The Department of Energy, via its Geothermal Technologies Office, has identified geothermal energy as having significant potential advantages for power generation:

  • Renewable: Through proper reservoir management, the rate of energy extraction can be balanced with a reservoir's natural heat recharge rate.
  • Baseload: Geothermal power plants produce electricity consistently, running 24 hours per day/7 days per week, regardless of weather conditions.
  • Domestic: U.S. geothermal resources can be harnessed for power production without importing fuel.
  • Small Footprint: Geothermal power plants are compact; using less land per GWh (404 m2) than coal (3642 m2) wind (1335 m2) or solar PV with center station (3237 m2).*
  • Clean: Modern closed-loop geothermal power plants emit no greenhouse gasses; life cycle GHG emissions (50 g CO2 eq/kWhe) are four times less than solar PV, and six to 20 times lower than natural gas. Geothermal power plants consume less water on average over the lifetime energy output than the most conventional generation technologies.**

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Various geothermal energy technologies exploit the earth's heated water to drive turbines that can generate electricity. This is done either by harnessing existing steam coming out of the earth, which is the oldest form of geothermal power generation, or in a more scalable format, by using the earth's heated water to generate steam, either by exploiting pressure differentials in a flash steam process or by putting the hot liquid in contact with a liquid that has a lower boiling point than water via a heat exchanger.

The problem is that geothermal reservoirs, which are prevalent and in many areas close to the surface in the West, are not evenly distributed and in some places can only be found quite deep. Quaise Energy plans to harness deep geothermal by introducing millimeter wave drilling systems capable of reaching depths between 10-20 km. At these depths, geothermal energy is power-dense, virtually unlimited, and available everywhere on the planet. 

"This funding round brings us closer to providing clean, renewable baseload energy," said Carlos Araque, CEO and co-founder of Quaise Energy. "Our technology allows us to unlock energy anywhere in the world, at a scale greater than wind and solar, enabling future generations to thrive in a world powered with abundant clean energy."

The company plans to demonstrate its technology in both in-ground and lab-controlled conditions in 2022 and in-field in 2024. Interestingly, the company has plans to use its novel drilling technology to repower traditional power plants, saving infrastructure costs and utilizing the current oil and gas industry's workforce to accelerate the shift towards a sustainable energy industry.

"In the calculus of clean energy, we must weigh the resources needed to produce carbon-free power," said Mark Cupta, Managing Director at Prelude Ventures. "Clean energy shouldn't have to come at the expense of greater land and mineral usage. Quaise's approach offers a lower geographical and environmental impact. By using current infrastructure, we can re-power our planet using significantly fewer resources."

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