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Heat Beneath Our Feet

A new well is testing ways to harness unlimited energy


Outside a town of 1,700 people in southern Utah, a well reaching thousands of feet underground was drilled and completed last December. But instead of searching for water or even oil, this well near Milford, Utah, extends deep into the earth to access an energy source in the form of rocks as hot as 440 degrees Fahrenheit.

The well is helping researchers test tools and technologies used to create geothermal reservoirs where none exist naturally. These reservoirs will consist of interconnected fractures that allow injected water to heat up as it circulates through the hot rock. The water can then be pumped to the surface, where its thermal energy can produce electricity before it is reinjected, says Joseph Moore, principal investigator for Utah Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy (FORGE), which drilled the well. The underground lab is run by the U’s Energy & Geoscience Institute.

The total length of the well is about 11,000 feet, with the deepest part at a vertical depth of just over 8,500. Beginning at 6,000 feet, it was steered to the east, eventually deviating 65 degrees.

Although geothermal power is not a new concept, it’s typically found only near natural geothermal systems, like hot springs or volcanoes. Funded by $200 million from the U.S. Department of Energy, this project aims to make geothermal power more readily available, says Moore.

What’s so unique about this work is accessibility, he notes. The current project takes up a few acres of land, and there are almost no limits to where it could be placed. “Imagine, all the energy you need from anywhere you want it. That’s the potential of this project,” says Moore. A second well is slated to be completed in 2022, with more testing efforts set to begin.

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