How does the concept of limitless energy sound? Amazing right? Geothermal startup, Quaise Energy, thought so too and has since raised $63 million (R1,008 billion) in funding to tap Earth’s deep subterranean power.
According to the company’s profile, “Quaise is an energy company unlocking geothermal energy for the world population through millimetre wave drilling technology.”
What is geothermal energy?
The United States Energy Information Administration explains that geothermal energy is basically heat within the earth. The word geothermal comes from the Greek words geo (earth) and therme (heat).
“Geothermal energy is a renewable energy source because heat is continuously produced inside the earth. People use geothermal heat for bathing, to heat buildings, and to generate electricity.”
The company plans to drill down deeper into Earth than ever before, creating holes that would extend a record-beating 20 kilometres under our planet’s surface.
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The company said in a statement that the goal of these super-deep holes is to access a limitless amount of renewable energy from the heat deep inside Earth.
Carlos Araque, CEO and co-founder of Quaise Energy told BusinessWire that "funding round brings us closer to providing clean, renewable baseload energy, our technology allows us
to access energy anywhere in the world, at a scale far greater than wind and solar, enabling future generations to thrive in a world powered with abundant clean energy."
Geothermal power plants use steam to produce electricity. The steam comes from reservoirs of hot water found a few kilometres or more below the earth's surface. The steam rotates a turbine that activates a generator, which produces electricity. Instead of burning coal, oil or gas to heat water and turn turbines, geothermal power plants have water already heated by the Earth itself.
The slow decay of radioactive particles in the earth's core, a process that happens in all rocks, produces geothermal energy.
Quaise believes that geothermal energy is “at the core of an energy-independent world,” according to the company’s website. Humans have been harnessing geothermal energy for thousands of years yet it only accounts for about 0.4 percent of net energy production in the United States, which is the world’s biggest geothermal producer.
The company is a spinoff from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and intends to pioneer this geothermal technology using vacuum tubes known as gyrotrons that shoot millimetre-wave light beams, powered by electrons in a strong magnetic field.
Using these devices, the company plans to burn almost twice as far into Earth as the deepest holes ever made, such as Russia’s Kola Superdeep Borehole or Qatar’s Al Shaheen oil well, both of which extend about 12 kilometres deep.
Gyrotrons are powerful enough to heat plasma in nuclear fusion experiments, making them an ideal tool to probe unprecedented depths of 20 kilometres or so, where subterranean rocks
simmer at temperatures of about 500°C. Water pumped into this searing environment would instantly vaporise as steam that could be efficiently converted to electricity.
Quaise said that its hybrid drilling rig, which utilises a traditional rotary head to get through softer material and a high-energy beam to melt tougher stuff, can drill up to 20 kilometres deep in a hundred days.
According to a report by New Atlas, a depth of kilometres can easily provide access to long-term green energy supplies to any location in the world.
“Deep geothermal uses less than 1% of the land and materials of other renewables, making it the only option for a sustainable clean energy transition,” Quaise writes on its website.
Quaise CEO and Co-Founder Carlos Araque told New Atlas that while solar and wind energy is easier to access, the problem is that “there is not enough of it to power the civilization we have created with fossil fuels.”
He added that accessing geothermal energy instead “is a solution that can work for 95 percent of humanity.”
In 2019, a team led by scientists from the University of Edinburgh analysed the chemical make-up of gas emerging from a deep crack in the earth’s crust located in KwaZulu-Natal and found that variants of helium and neon present in the gas matched the composition of a layer of rock which lies a thousand kilometres below earth’s surface.
The report, published in the journal Nature Communications, provided the first physical evidence that southern Africa lies on top of a plume of the abnormally hot mantle rock, which
had only previously been theorised using computer modelling of seismic data.