On Wednesday, Sept. 22, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced $12 million in funding for seven research projects to enhance geothermal energy systems. MSU received $1.5 million of this grant to analyze thermally induced calcite precipitation as a method to control hydraulic properties in enhanced geothermal systems. 

Lauren Boyd, enhanced geothermal systems program manager of the Geothermal Technologies Office (GTO) of the DOE, described geothermal energy as “a renewable source of energy that is found beneath the Earth’s surface.” In this position, Boyd is aware of the targets set for geothermal capacity of new builds, expectations to ramp up efforts to meet commercialization, potential job creation, and efforts underway to advance design and innovation.

“It is a firm clean electricity source that can run 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Boyd said. This energy source can benefit communities with efficient ways of heating and cooling buildings, and with technological advances it can be expanded across the U.S. 

The DOE opened submission opportunities for funding earlier this year. The top applicants were then selected to negotiate project terms and budget frames. The DOE provides most of the funding for the seven projects while the teams are responsible for around 20% of the project funds. 

“Geothermal is a carbon-free renewable energy resource, contributing significantly to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating the impacts of climate change by offsetting the use of fossil fuels,” Boyd explained. “Geothermal has a smaller physical footprint than any other renewable energy source, such as solar or wind. Geothermal power plants generate two to four times as much electricity as a wind or solar plant of the same capacity due to its high capacity factor.” 

The top priorities of the GTO, according to its website, are to expand the benefits of clean carbon-free electricity, decarbonize building heating and cooling systems and spur economic, environment and social justice advancements. The challenges the GTO faces, such as expenses and exploration risks, increase the importance of these research projects to further advance and bring attention to geothermal energy systems. 

The projects are estimated to run for two to three years. “The overarching aim of this funding is to support the research, development, demonstration and deployment of technologies and techniques to control the fluid flow in enhanced geothermal system reservoirs,” Boyd said. “This funding will help scientists and engineers unlock the full potential of geothermal power to help tackle the climate crisis and achieve the Biden-Harris Administration’s goals of net-zero carbon emissions economy-wide by 2050 and a carbon-free power sector by 2035.”