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Energy & Environment

WVU Researchers Work to Make Geothermal Technology Less Expensive, More Reliable

geothermal photo 1.jpg
WVU Photo/Paige Nesbit
West Virginia University
WVU researchers are studying ways to improve geothermal energy technology.

A team of WVU researchers is helping improve geothermal energy technology.

The project’s goal is to improve existing technologies by using a pump to bring warm water to the Earth’s surface. WVU professors Terence Musho and Nigel Clark are among those leading the project.

Clark said geothermal energy can be an alternative to fossil fuels. He said the cost of extracting hot water is much lower than the cost of extracting oil. It is also one of the only renewable energy sources that does not require energy storage like solar power.

Both Musho and Clark think that a transition to the renewable energy source could be ideal for the state’s economy.

“If you look at a lot of the geothermal stuff going on right now, they’re looking to the oil and gas people to bring their technology to the geothermal market,” said Musho.

Clark says geothermal energy has a lot of potential value as a regional energy source.

“We have been and still are a major source of electricity for the northeast,” said Clark. “And so we really need to look at transitioning some of the economy to using renewable methods if the demand is gonna be for renewable energy.”

Geothermal technology involves using warm water or steam from below the earth’s surface to create renewable energy. The pump injects air into geothermal wells, and the bubbles lift the water to the surface.

Their project focuses on improving the efficiency of a machine part called the sparger, which is the point where air or gas is introduced to the water. The overall goal is to make geothermal technology less expensive and more reliable.

“Basically, it’s about the exploitation of geothermal energy,” said Clark. “If it is difficult or expensive to bring the water to the surface, it simply isn’t gonna happen. So part of the quest for renewable resources is to actually enable bringing it to the surface cheaply.”

The team has presented its project to the American-Made Geothermal Manufacturing Prize competition, and have been selected as semi-finalists. They will take part in the third phase of the competition in November.

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