Iceland finds powerful energy source in volcanoes

Iceland is drilling into volcanoes to tap the energy created by magma, which could act as an innovative new form of renewable energy.

The Iceland Deep Drilling Project (IDDP) is currently drilling five kilometres below Reykjanes in south-western Iceland, along a tectonic fault line. At this depth, magma that moves underground through volcanic activity mixes with and heats seawater that has penetrated beneath the ocean bed. These are the conditions needed for “supercritical steam”, an energy-rich product between gas and liquid.

A well that can successfully tap into this steam could have an energy capacity of 50MW, powering approximately 50,000 homes, Albert Albertsson, assistant director of geothermal energy company HS Orka told New Scientist. A typical geothermal well can produce 5MW of energy, powering approximately 5000 homes.

“People have drilled into hard rock at this depth, but never before into a fluid system like this,” said Albertsson.

According to Albertsson, the team could even find the landward equivalent of “black smokers”, hot underwater springs saturated with minerals such as gold, silver and lithium.

The IDDP previously drilled 2km down in Krafla in 2009, also striking magma. This was used as a test to determine how much energy could be generated and whether the method would actually work. This well turned out to be the most powerful geothermal well ever drilled, generating 30MW. However, it suffered from corrosion and was shut down.

The IDDP intends for the current well to be applied to the country’s grid and used as a long-term source of energy. There is also potential for any excess energy to be sold to the rest of Europe, as Iceland already relies on 100 per cent renewable energy.

Scientists have pointed out that this technique could be used around the world in areas with potential for supercritical steam. These include areas with young volcanoes, according to New Scientist.

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