The Energy & Geoscience Institute (EGI) at the University of Utah and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy’s (EERE) Geothermal Technologies Office (GTO) have partnered with NETL to explore enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) via the Utah FORGE project. Once optimized and developed, electricity from EGS could power tens of millions of American homes and businesses.
Geothermal resources occur where water circulates through a network of interconnected fractures, or pathways, within naturally hot rocks found deep below the planet’s surface. Operators can then produce power from the hot water once it is brought to the surface by deep underground wells. However, not all of these resources are conducive for power generation. Some don’t contain enough water to extract the heat, while others contain too few pathways to circulate the water. In an effort to solve the latter challenge, operators can inject fluid into the hot rocks, create pathways, and extract the heat resource from a new, manmade geothermal reservoir.
Utah FORGE is a dedicated underground field laboratory sponsored by DOE for developing, testing and accelerating breakthroughs in EGS technologies to advance the uptake of geothermal resources around the world. Located near the town of Milford in Beaver County, Utah on the western flank of the Mineral Mountains, Utah FORGE began operations in 2015 and will continue through 2024. Near-term goals are aimed at optimizing drilling, simulation techniques, flow testing and subsurface imaging technologies required to establish and sustain continuous fluid flow and energy transfer from an EGS reservoir.
NETL, in addition to providing technical support to EGI and EERE, provides project management oversight of the project for GTO. The project’s long-term goal is to enable cutting-edge research, apply advanced drilling technology, and provide an opportunity for EGS technology testing, as well as to allow scientists to identify a replicable, commercial pathway to EGS.
According to Rob Vagnetti, who has served as the FORGE federal project manager from the program’s inception in 2013, the opportunity to integrate the oil and gas industry into EGS operations was always viewed as a key objective of FORGE. NETL’s involvement with FORGE has helped to bring world-class knowledge and experience gained in the oil patch to the expanding geothermal industry and to usher in a whole new era of environmentally friendly resource extraction and use.
“This is an exciting opportunity for NETL to apply its horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing knowledge from the oil and gas industry to EGS research, the advancement of which will play a vital role in America’s clean energy transition,” said Scott Beautz, NETL petroleum engineer and project manager who is managing the Utah FORGE project in close collaboration with GTO.
“For example, new EGS plants can provide baseload power around the clock independent of weather conditions and with the flexibility to meet consumer demand. Geothermal energy presents an opportunity for sustainable baseload power for the country.”
NETL is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory that drives innovation and delivers technological solutions for an environmentally sustainable and prosperous energy future. By leveraging its world-class talent and research facilities, NETL is ensuring affordable, abundant and reliable energy that drives a robust economy and national security, while developing technologies to manage carbon across the full life cycle, enabling environmental sustainability for all Americans.