Engineers have designed a drilling tool capable of withstanding the heat of geothermal drilling–an innovation that could completely revolutionize the U.S.’s geothermal energy goals.
Similar to a jackhammer, the downhole hammer attaches to the end of a column of drill pipe and drills through rock with a rapid hammering action. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Geothermal Technologies Office helped fund the project. It was designed by Sandia National Laboratories, in collaboration with Atlas Copco, which operates worldwide and makes specialized equipment and systems for drilling, mining and construction.
The older design of downhole hammers relied on lubricants, plastic and rubber O-rings, all of which cannot withstand the hotter temperatures created by geothermal drilling.
“Part of what the DOE’s Geothermal Program is looking to do is help lower the cost of getting geothermal energy out to customers,” says Jiann Su, a researcher in Sandia’s geothermal research department, in a report by Science Daily.
“Some of reducing the cost is lowering exploration and development costs, and that’s one of the areas we’re helping to tackle.”
The project took a total of three years to complete. The first year consisted solely of determining whether a heat-resistant downhole hammer was even feasible, while the next two years involved building hammers and a facility for high-temperature testing.
The Geothermal Energy Association’s 2016 annual production report shows the U.S. had about 2.7 gigawatts of net geothermal capacity at the end of 2015. In addition, the U.S. market was developing about 1.25 gigawatts of geothermal power, and new renewable portfolio standards in states such as California and Hawaii could create opportunities for geothermal energy, the report says.
Widespread usage of the high temperature hammer, created by Sandia, could help reach these geothermal energy goals for the country and worldwide. This could amplify the acceptance and understanding of a powerful technological tool for renewable energy creation.
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