Engineers in Iceland have finished drilling into a volcano ahead of experiments which will determine the hydrothermal potential of undersea volcanic shafts, according to a report by the BBC.
The Iceland Deep Drilling Project is being jointly-funded by a consortium of Icelandic energy companies and the government, and will be exploring the potential viability of undersea geothermal generation.
The volcano, located near the Reykjanes peninsula on Iceland’s most south-westerly point, is of geological significance because it sits on the edge of a major tectonic plate boundary, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
The Reykjanes project is the second deep-drill project which is being undertaken by the collection of energy companies, with preliminary exploratory drilling being conducted in the north-east of the country at the Krafla caldera.
A caldera is formed when a magma reservoir erupts, leaving a concave depression. This was chosen as the site of the first deep-drill project but was called off after drilling to a depth of 2km revealed magma. While tested briefly before being closed down, it generated 30 MW.
As a result, the location of the Reyjkanes project means that there is rich geothermal potential to be tapped, thanks to immense pressure and the interaction between magma and seawater.
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Hydrothermal involves tapping into so-called ‘supercritical steam’, which is neither in gas or liquid state but contains huge energy potential, around 10 times as much as regular geothermal. It is hoped that the energy source could one day play a significant role in Iceland’s energy mix.
By drilling a bore shaft into the volcano, geologists hope to make use of the geothermal potential. Regular geothermal shafts usually only go down to a depth of 2500m; by drilling twice as deep, the engineers behind the project hope that they will be able to tap into temperatures ranging from 400-1000°c. In theory, this will exponentially increase the amount of electricity that can be generated.
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The drilling has been ongoing since August 2016, with geologists penetrating down to a depth of 4,659 metres. Originally intended to reach down to 5000m, the engineers behind the project have decided against drilling any deeper, having already recorded temperatures of 427°.
As tectonic plates move across the earth’s mantle, separating from and colliding with each other, these interfaces become points of interest for hydrothermal energy, which could one day move from promising potential to an outright source of energy. Find out more about both geothermal and hydrothermal energy sources in our ultimate guide to renewable energy sources by clicking here.