1 topic, 2 key figures, 3 startups to draw inspiration from
As concerns about climate change grow and energy use is at an all-time high, the need for an affordable, scalable, and low emission electricity source is clear. And while geothermal energy might not be the first source that comes to mind when talking about renewable energy, its potential is huge and startups and investors are investing in the field.
Producing electricity using geothermal energy is a straightforward process: the lower layers of the earth are hot and some of them contain pools of water at high temperature and pressure. To access as much of this water as possible, a fracturing step is used to improve the permeability of the surrounding rocks, called “fracking”. The water is pumped out and turned into steam when it reaches the surface. The steam passes through a turbine to produce electricity. Once it passes through the turbine, the pressure drops and the steam turns back into water, which is sent back underground.
One of the main drawbacks of this technique is that these pools are often very deep underground and the drilling of the well is exponentially expensive with the depth, but some startups are tackling this problem: Strada has developed a patented “water hammer” technology, a frac-free drilling method that they claim can reduce time and cost by up to 70% compared to conventional technology. Eden Geotech provides electro-hydraulic fracturing technology that enhances geothermal well production by increasing the liquid flow within the well. One of its advantages is that the electricity used for fracking can be produced by the geothermal power plant itself, lowering the ecological impact of the process. Eavor, on the other hand, offers a geothermal solution that does not require fracking with its Eavor-loop system. It harvests energy using its proprietary fluid flowing inside a chain of lateral wells dug several kilometers underground.
Another obstacle to the widespread adoption of geothermal energy is that it is location-dependent, as pockets of very hot, deep water are not found everywhere. Other technologies focus on “low enthalpy” geothermal wells, where the liquid temperature reaches 70-90°C, which are more abundant and closer to the earth’s surface. One way of producing power using these wells is through an Organic Rankine Cycle (ORC), which involves bringing hot water into contact with another liquid that has a lower boiling point and using the steam produced to generate electricity. Greenstorc has developed a proprietary fluid that evaporates at 50°C and creates 250 times more steam than water, thus reducing the energy loss of the conversion. Climeon produces modules using the ORC principle that can operate between with a hot source of 80 to 120°C and can be associated in parallel and in series, making it scalable to a wide range of flows and power generation needs.
The innovative geothermal energy production technology has attracted the attention of larger corporations: BP and Chevron led Eavor’s last year’s funding round. Two years ago, Climeon successfully installed its technology on virgin voyage’s first ship, using the waste heat from cooling systems as a heat source. Their technology is to be installed on Virgin’s first 4 ships.
In short, geothermal energy can be a viable and reliable energy source, as evidenced by Iceland, where 25% of the electricity is produced using geothermal energy. Nonetheless, these applications remain geographically constrained and are very expensive, but work continues to expand their use in less optimal conditions.
2 Key Figures
The geothermal energy market is expected to reach $6.8bn by 2026
The global geothermal energy market reached $4.6 bn in 2018 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 5% over the period 2019-2026 – Allied Market Research
+350 funded companies in geothermal energy
registered by Tracxn
3 startups to draw inspiration from
This week, we identified three startups that we can draw inspiration from: Strada, Eden Geotech and Eavor.
The UK-based company provides onshore geothermal drill rig technology and specializes in providing deep geothermal well construction and completion services with access to patented drilling rigs and fluid percussion drilling methods.
Eden Geotech provides reservoir stimulation technology intended to enhance oil, gas and geothermal productivity. The company has developed water-less and injection-free technology and solutions to change the petrophysical properties of rock formation, create micro-fractures and increase permeability.
Based in Canada, climeon developed a power generation technology designed to mitigate or eliminate the issues that have hindered traditional geothermal alternatives. The company’s technology circulates a benign working fluid that is completely isolated from the environment in a closed-loop and collects heat from the natural geothermal gradient of the Earth.