University of Utah researchers have secured more than $7 million in federal money to explore ways to make geothermal wells more productive by "stimulating" cracks in heat-bearing rock with high-pressure water injections

“Using these techniques to increase pathways in the rock for hot water and steam would increase availability of geothermal energy across the country,” said U. geologist Ray Levey in news release about the study. Levey directs the Energy & Geoscience Institute (EGI), a contract research outfit housed in the College of Engineering.

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The U.S. Department of Energy has agreed to shoulder most of the costs associated with the five-year, $10.2 million research project, which targets U.S. Geothermal Inc.’s Raft River power plant in southeast Idaho. Most of the nation’s geothermal power is produced west of the Rocky Mountains, where hot rocks are near the surface.

“Hot rock is present across the United States, but new methods have to be developed to use the heat in these rocks to produce geothermal power,” said EGI geologist Joe Moore, the project’s leader, in the same news release. “There’s incredible potential in Utah and other states for geothermal development.”

Levey and Moore are also research engineering professors.

The geothermal team suspects Raft River’s electrical-generation output could be increased 10-fold if it can make the heated rock formations below more permeable. The team will first pump cold water into the formation to a depth of 6,000 feet, followed by a high-pressure injection. The hope is that will open networks of cracks to allow the rock’s heat to be captured for energy production.

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