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SHR workshop

Bridging the gaps of superhot rock energy: Highlights from the Iceland Geothermal Conference

July 9, 2024 Work Area: Superhot Rock Energy

On opening day of the 2024 Iceland Geothermal Conference, Clean Air Task Force (CATF), in partnership with the GEORG Geothermal Research Cluster, convened leaders from across the geothermal innovation space for an exciting half-day workshop aimed at identifying critical hurdles to superhot rock energy deployment. More specifically, the workshop focused on uncovering gaps in five critical technology areas:  

  • Drilling: Critical for expanding access to superhot rock energy in locations where the Earth’s geothermal gradient is low and high temperatures are deep.  
  • Well design and construction: Historically, well construction is the most common point of failure for past superhot rock demonstrations. 
  • Heat extraction: Creating the ability for water to circulate through hot rock, either through fracture enhancement or the creation of closed-loop systems. This is the technology area with the lowest level of maturity. 
  • Subsurface characterization: A powerful lever in understanding downhole conditions and reducing technical risk when establishing a superhot rock energy project. 
  • Power production: Geothermal power plants have the same build as any thermoelectric plant, but it is important to understand existing capabilities and what changes are needed in equipment and design to scale up superhot rock energy.  

The event included a series of discussions, each with Q&A sessions, to a room packed with research pioneers, investors, and developers. By holding the workshop in Iceland, the CATF team was able to attract an audience of geothermal trailblazers and superhot veterans – many of whom directly enabled the world to visualize the vast energy potential of superhot rock energy through the Iceland Deep Drilling Project.  

During the workshop, Reykjavik Energy (RE), a major utility in Iceland with deep expertise in geothermal energy, signaled its intent to begin ultra-high temperature geothermal operations in dry-rock conditions. While RE is no stranger to high-temperature geothermal operations, this would allow them to access heat resources beyond the naturally occurring pockets of hot water and hot springs at the heart of Iceland’s unique resource mix.  This potential expansion in Reykjavik Energy’s operations would both accelerate Iceland’s goal to achieve carbon neutrality before 2040 and mark a significant step in advancing superhot rock energy globally. To maximize the global impact of this potential work, RE also signaled its intent to collaborate with CATF and Icelandic NGO Transition Labs, to facilitate SHR knowledge and resource sharing across borders.  

© Tom Urban – Georg 

What CATF learned with the experts 

The sold-out workshop demonstrated the breadth of interest and dedication from a range of geothermal pioneers in superhot rock energy. Discussions for each topic area were supplemented by detailed reports outlining relevant technical advancements and remaining challenges. These reports will also prove to be invaluable in informing public and private funding for future research, development, testing, and demonstration.  

Key findings 

Across all identified research gaps, the workshop uncovered a series of consistent themes, the most critical being the ongoing need for field testing to validate models and test high-temperature equipment in real-world environments — a critical step for accelerating deployment. 

 Additional high-priority technology gaps identified during the workshop include: 

  • Subsurface model validation: Collecting data with in-field testing to ensure that models for predicting and planning superhot rock projects accurately reflect a real-world environment.  
  • Comprehensive testing for casing materials in superhot environments. 
  • Maintaining cement integrity through extreme temperature fluctuations. 
  • Advancement of reservoir stimulation equipment to perform in superhot environments. 
  • Improved practices and equipment for temperature management systems. 

As underscored by the authors of these reports, superhot rock energy requires engineering iteration, not scientific breakthroughs. A more comprehensive list of the technology gaps uncovered, and what is needed to advance each gap, is available in the workshop poster here

How CATF is building on these lessons 

This workshop created additional momentum for further technological advancements and global coalition-building for superhot rock energy. CATF plans to develop materials to effectively communicate the research gaps identified at this workshop to investors, government officials, and other nongovernmental organizations in the space. CATF will convene a global summit on superhot rock energy in the fall, bringing together international research leaders and practitioners. The outcomes of the research papers, strategy sessions during the summit, and insights from global decision-makers will each be key components for building and publishing a comprehensive technology development roadmap for superhot rock energy. 

For the latest updates and further material from each study, visit Bridging the Gaps: A Survey of Methods, Challenges, and Pathways Forward for Superhot Rock Energy. To stay informed and join our email list, please sign up here.

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