Saturday, September 03, 2016

How the Synthetic Diamond Industry Is Revolutionizing the Geothermal Energy Market

Diamond-tipped bores required to drill hard rocks. (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
A few years back, the US Navy and Sandia National Labs began research on using the polycrystalline diamond compact (PDC) technology to build drill-bits that could make the construction of geothermal wells far cheaper than they are at the moment.  An MIT research paper predicts that advanced technology could help us grow from the current levels of 10.7 GW (2010) to as much as 100 GW by 2030.

There are two main hurdles along the way. First is the technological ability to drill deeper. The US Department of Energy notes in a vision statement that advanced geothermal development will require us to drill in as much as 30,000 feet deep (5.7 miles).  At present, geothermal wells are rarely ever more than 1.9 miles deep.  To make this affordable, we will first need to build affordable drilling machines that are harder and capable of penetration.  Secondly, we will need to minimize the cost of failure – the cost of drilling bits breakage can be significant.

Cheap synthetic diamonds help fix these challenges.  For one, the lower cost of manufacturing make it possible to build larger drill bits that are not prohibitively expensive to manufacture.  Also, larger diamond drill bits reduce the chance of failure thus reducing the cost of drilling much further.

Today, most geothermal wells are built over abandoned oil wells that are typically less than 7000 feet in depth.  While cost-effective, this is not sustainable and may not be sufficient to meet the MIT study target to reach 100 GW in the next fifteen years.  But with cost of drilling likely to come down significantly thanks to the synthetic diamond technology, it will not be long before the geothermal energy costs are affordable and make it a viable renewable energy alternative.

Read more at How the Synthetic Diamond Industry Is Revolutionizing the Geothermal Energy Market

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