Iceland has completed drilling a 4,659-metre hole (nearly 3 miles) into the Krafla volcano to harness the considerable amount of geothermal energy stored within.
Although using geothermal power as a clean energy source is not a new idea, the $100 million project is a radical experiment that shows a substantial commitment to this initiative.
Iceland’s Geothermal Research Group (GEORG) and the British Geological Survey are coordinating the project. It includes participation from 38 institutes and companies from 11 countries including the United States, Canada and Russia.
If successful, the Thor drilling project would provide Iceland with around 10 times more energy than fossil fuels.
Engineers hope to access hot liquids under extreme pressure and at temperatures of 427 degrees C (800 F), creating steam that turns a turbine to generate clean electricity.
To reach the magma, Thor is hammering down 3 miles between two tectonic plates, in a boundary region known as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. At this depth, intense pressure transforms extremely hot water into ‘supercritical steam’, which is neither liquid nor gas.
Iceland is currently the only country in the world which runs on 100 percent renewable electricity. Geothermal energy accounts for 25 percent, while the rest comes from hydroelectric dams.
Producing geothermal energy from magma would enable Iceland to export more energy and could also revive a plan to build a power cable from Iceland to Britain to provide energy to British homes. This would be the world’s longest power interconnector (IceLink).
Last year, Iceland agreed with Britain to study building the 1,000-km long IceLink cable, which could power 1.6 million British homes. However, plans were delayed due to Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and concern in Iceland that exports would increase power prices at home and reduce the island’s attractiveness to energy-intensive industries such as data centres.
‘The possibility of increasing geothermal energy supply in Iceland would most certainly be a boost to the proposed (IceLink) plan as there were worries on the effect on local prices with increased exports,’ Wayne Bryan, an analyst at the British Alfa Energy consultancy, told Reuters.
Scientists working on the Thor drill project have two years to determine its success and the economic feasibility of the experiment. If successful, experts believe this achievement ‘could lead to a revolution in the energy efficiency of high-temperature geothermal areas worldwide.’