September 24, 2021 at 10:30am CST
This seminar will be held in person and online. If attending in person, please wear a mask and observe social distancing.
Location: UTIG Seminar Conference Room
J.J. Pickle Research Campus
10100 Burnet Road, Bldg. 196/ROC
Online: Request Zoom link from firstname.lastname@example.org.
Speaker: Malcolm Ross, Black Swan Detector, Eavor & Adjunct Faculty, Rice University
Host: Brandon Shuck
Title: What’s Hot in the Search for Renewable Energy
Abstract: In the search for a reliable renewable energy source, the topic that stands out for the geoscientist is Geothermal Energy. Much of what we have learned from the search for hydrocarbons can be applied to the search for geothermal. However, many of the learnings of the oil industry have not infiltrated the geothermal community, hindering the application of state-of-the-art techniques and technologies to this new field. Could the application of this technology improve geothermal energy’s participation rate to something higher than the current <1% of the energy mix? The key lies in the question of “where”? Current technologies and techniques can be applied in <8% of the landmass, making it a niche opportunity at best. What needs to change to break out of that niche to “Geothermal Anywhere”? The answer: how energy is extracted from the subsurface. Traditional extraction techniques mirror the hydrocarbon extraction world, where fluid/gas flow through pores is required; traditional geothermal techniques are not applicable without porosity and permeability (natural or artificial).
To expand and thrive, the search for geothermal energy needs creative solutions that greatly expand the scope of application. We will review the challenges of traditional geothermal approaches and explore some of the cutting-edge exploration, drilling, and production technologies now being pursued to achieve the goal of “Geothermal Anywhere.” Since geothermal drilling and casing costs typically account for >50% of the CAPEX of a geothermal project, lowering the cost of drilling and increasing the potential depth/temperature would have dramatic results. One of these techniques, hypersonic drilling, could be used as a seismic signal for reflection, refraction, and tomographic studies.
One of the principal challenges to any geothermal energy project is the fear of induced seismicity. At least three geothermal projects have been shut down by public objections caused by structural damages from induced seismicity. There are many sources of geothermally-induced seismicity – Enhanced/Engineered Geothermal Systems use fracking to improve permeability, although the technology elicits a negative connotation to the public in many places. Traditional systems move a great deal of fluid through naturally porous rocks, inducing stress changes that can induce earthquakes. However, in closed-loop systems where no fluids move through rock, the only product extracted is heat. Recent studies suggest that heat extraction can cause thermal destressing fault systems, implying that heat extraction-only systems may not induce seismicity and may even reduce background seismicity.
About Malcolm: Malcolm I Ross, Ph.D. (Rice), M.S. (UT Austin), B.A. (Colgate) has worked in Geoscience and GIS his entire career, with the last 13 years as a Shell Research scientist (now retired). He was involved in Shell’s New Technology Innovation arm (GameChanger), then as the “Black Swan Detector” in New Energies Research. Malcolm currently works for the Rothwell Group. His specialties include geoscience, disruption, cutting-edge geothermal, ocean energy, plate tectonics, and paleoclimate modeling.
While completing his M.S. in 1987, Malcolm worked with Faculty and Staff from UTIG – John Sclater, Chris Scotese, Dale Sawyer, and Eric Rosencrantz served as his committee. The work involved building a quantified plate tectonic model for the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean. The work was funded by the Industrial Sponsors of the Paleoceanographic Mapping Project (POMP, the predecessor to PLATES). On completion of his degree, and with the departure of Chris Scotese to Shell, Malcolm was asked to run the POMP Program, which he did, until he departed to work on his Ph.D. with Peter Vail at Rice University, and Lisa Gahagan took over. During his time at Shell, Malcolm acted as the sponsor for PLATES at Shell.