Large-scale geothermal energy has long been constrained to volcanic areas where heat can easily be captured and turned into electricity. Recent breakthroughs in drilling techniques can transform the European energy market and end its dependence on fossil fuels.
According to industry estimates, 70% of the Earth’s surface could provide geothermal power using modern drilling techniques. As the temperature of the Earth’s crust increases with depth by around 30°C per kilometre, deep drilling increases the availability of geothermal energy.
However, the cost of big geothermal projects can be prohibitive. Conventional geothermal drilling is only cost-efficient up to the depth of five kilometres into soft rock. With each additional kilometre, and especially in harder rocks, costs increase exponentially and beyond a sustainable return on investment.
The reason is that between 40 and 70% of the overall project budget is spent on hiring, shipping and using the drill. This is why until now geothermal power plants with more substantial energy output have only been built where the Earth’s heat is accessible at shallower depths such as in Iceland, parts of the USA, New Zealand, the Philippines, small parts in Italy, Azores islands (Portugal), or Turkey.
Enter PLASMABIT®, a drilling platform developed by the Slovak technology start-up GA Drilling. It has clear step-change cost, performance, working life and environmental impact advantages compared to a conventional mechanical bit in deeper depths. The rapid rate of penetration in hard rock environment ensures linear drilling costs instead of exponential. As a result, costs of drilling per meter are lower by an order of magnitude when compared with conventional drilling techniques.
“The plasma arc disrupts the rock at a very high temperature of 6000 °C that is comparable to the surface of the sun. PLASMABIT® drilling technology enables cost efficient access to baseload high-temperature heat sources (300 – 400 °C) up to ten kilometres below the Earth’s surface. We are unlocking the vast potential of deep geothermal for all who need access to low cost, 24/7 renewable energy,” explains Igor Kočiš, CEO of GA Drilling.
Since the revolutionary platform doesn’t require contact with the rock formation it is inherently less prone to any mechanical wear. This reduces the need for regular replacement of the tool as well as the costly downtime. By combining PLASMABIT® solution with conventional off the shelf modular system, in conjunction with engineering, procurement, and construction partners, PLASMABIT® will deliver the ultra-deep geothermal energy at low cost anywhere. The lower noise generation and resonance (below 40dB beyond 300m depth) make the technology viable also in populated areas.
While still in the middle of an extensive technology testing in real-world conditions, the company has already started to plan its first major pilot project. „We have identified several locations in Europe with most favourable combination of geological profile and energy market conditions and launched the first round of talks with potential partners. Our aim is to form a consortium and build a power plant with installed capacity of min. 20 MW,“ said Mr. Kočiš.