Geo-energy firms work on deep-drilling breakthrough at Cornwall's Eden Project

6th January 2011

The prospects for practical exploitation of geothermal energy are looking significantly brighter thanks to an agreement between two key players in the industry. Penzance based EGS Energy and the Slovakian engineering company Geothermal Anywhere (GA) will work together to develop GA’s deep-drilling technology concept, Ultradrill.

Engineered geothermal systems (EGS) use water to extract heat from rocks deep underground and bring it up to the surface, where it can be used directly or to generate electricity. Such a system needs at least two boreholes – an injection well and a production well – which have to be several kilometres deep to ensure an edequate operating temperature. EGS Energy’s planned power plant at Cornwall’s Eden Project, where drilling is due to start mid-2011, will require boreholes of at least 4km.

Conventional drilling technologyy relies on an assembly of connected drilling rods – collectively called the string to connect the drill bit to the drilling rig. Whenever a worn drill bit needs replacing , the string has to be withdrawn from the well, dismantled and then re-assembled. The time lost in this procedure becomes progressively longer as wells get deeper, resulting in an exponential rise in drilling costs.

Ultradrill dispenses with a conventional drill bit, replacing it with a pulsed-plasma and ultrs-sound ‘cutting tool’ attached to the head of a long length of coiled tubing. As the coil is unwoun, and the cutting tool fed down the borehole, the plasma and the ultra-sound pulses break up and disperse the rock without direct contact.

Water is pumped down the tubing and rises up the borehole. Capsules of drilled disintegrated rock are brought to the surface by buoyancy and artificial airlift.

The big attractions of Ultradrill over conventional drilling technology are lower costs and greater speed. There’s no need for for a large drilling rig , and the drill doesn’t have to be brought to the surface at regular invervals. On the basis of a laboratory demonstrator, GA estimates that Ultrdrill will take less than 60 days to drill a 5km well – an unprecedented speed.

Its early days for the technology but Roy Baria, technical director for EGS Energy, is decidedly upbeat about Ultradrill’s future. “It works in the lab, and once we’ve shown it can work in the field at more that 2000m then deep drilling costs will fall significantly, and the main obstacle to the take-up of EGS in the world will disappear.”

Source: E&T Magazine, Vol 5 Issue 18

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