What’s Next: Harnessing geothermal energy from volcanoes

Geothermal Energy

As we know it

Volcanoes contain super heated steam and materials in the form of magma. While we all regard volcanoes as one of the biggest destructive forces of Mother Nature, a few researchers believe otherwise and see the earth’s natural heat as an opportunity to harness abundant clean energy. The steam emanating the high temperature geothermal fluids could be used for driving turbines to produce electricity. The volcanic fluids also contain minerals like gold, silver, sulfur and mercury that can be obtained from such projects. However, it would require new and advanced technology to handle extreme temperatures of volcanic fluids. Many organizations and countries have already started projects for this purpose, as you will see below.

Need for change





At present, geothermal energy is one of the least explored renewable sources of energy. The reason for this is little popularity, apprehensions about the impact on local ecology and huge initial costs required for such a project. However, all this need to change as geothermal energy produces less greenhouse gases in comparison to conventional power plants. It is also cheaper and necessary at a time when the world is searching alternative sources to fuel.

What’s Next?

1. Indonesian geothermal energy project

Indonesian geothermal Energy Project

What’s new

The Indonesian government has launched an ambitious plan to generate 4000MW of geothermal power from volcanoes by 2014.The country is home to hundreds of active volcanoes and holds about 40 percent of the world’s geothermal energy potential. As per estimates, the project would be able to meet the electricity demand of about 35 percent of the country’s total population.

What difference it will make?





If successfully completed, this would be the largest such project anywhere in the world. It would drastically reduce the country’s dependence on coal-based power plants and also provide employment for a large number of people, not to mention the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Problems

The biggest problem for this project is the availability of funds and technology. As, Indonesia lags behind other major countries in the technology for producting geothermal energy. However, it has proposed to source technology and funds from countries like the US, Japan and also from the World bank.

2. German geothermal energy project

German Geothermal Energy Project

What’s new





In a first such initiative by a major European nation, the German government passed a legislation to make drilling for harnessing geothermal energy finacially feasible. About 150 geothermal power plants have been constructed in the country following a new tarrif structure and many more are expected to come. It has been estimated that the country would able to produce thousands of megawatts of geothermal electricity from these power plants in coming years.

What difference it will make?

The german geothermal electricity project would set a trend for all major European nations. It would create employment for thousands of people and help in the growth of new indigenous technologies for the purpose. Also, it would drastically reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions and help provide a clean and sustainable electricity to people.

Problems

The long term ecological impacts of large geothermal energy projects are still unclear. There are still some apprehensions among a group of researchers. However, the benefits of harnessing a renewable energy source far outweighs the apprehensions at present.

3. Iceland volcano drilling concept

Iceland Volcano Drilling Concept

What’s new

A consortium of Iceland’s power companies co-sponsored by US National Science Foundation has started the Iceland Deep Drilling Project (IDDP) for harnessing geothermal energy from the Krafla volcano. According to Gumundur Omar Friedleifsson, chief geologist and coordinator of the project, the energy produced from magma would be cheaper than normal geothermal energy produced from rock heated water or steam.

What difference it will make?

At present, about 1/3 of electricity in Iceland is produced from geothermal sources. If the present project is well executed then the country would be able to get all of its electricity from geothermal energy. As per estimates, about 25 MW electricity can be produced from the volcanic magma from just a 100 meters of holed pipe for about 30,000 households.

Problems

Temperature of the volcanic magma could be as high as 1000 degree Celsius. The present technology is not capable of handling such high temperatures. However, geologists are hopeful of developing a technology to bring the superheated steam from inside the volcano to the surface and use it for producing electricity.