Volcanoes – future power stations?

Chief Reporter
The Engineer

An Icelandic volcano has caused a huge amount of inconvenience across European airports this week, but geologists believe these northern ruptures may serve more of a purpose than creating transport havoc.

Since 2000 geologists  in Iceland have been researching the possibility of economically extracting geothermal energy by drilling directly into piping hot volcanoes.

By most estimates more than 90 per cent of Iceland’s heating is already met by geothermal energy. This energy is extracted from boreholes at depths that reach no more than 1,000m and electricity is produced from steam usually no hotter than approximately 240 Celsius. Iceland also generates electricity from geothermal heat, and according to the IPPC is one of five countries that generates more than 15 percent of its electricity from geothermal sources.

Through their effort, dubbed the Iceland Deep Drilling Project (IDDP), the geologists will attempt to reach depths of 3.5km – working through extremely high pressures and temperatures between 400 and 500 degrees Celsius. If successful, deep drilling could yield five to 10 times more power from each well.

Icelandic Ambassador to the United Nations Gunnar Pálsson championed their work ahead of the Copenhagen climate change negotiations last year as beneficial to countries beyond his home country.

‘Considering that more than 60 countries could harness energy from geothermal resources, the research could have important applications in other parts of the world,’ he stated.

Here in the UK the potential for this technology is obviously limited, considering it lacks Iceland’s vast number of hot spots to tap into.

So it may be little consolation if your flight has been grounded at Heathrow for the last 24 hours that volcanoes may be a hot new source of power in the future. Let’s just hope it all gets cleared up soon.

Have you had a flight grounded because of ash from the recent volcanic eruption in Iceland, or do you have any thoughts on the viability of geothermal power? We welcome your comments.