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Oregon Volcano Considered for Federal Geothermal Energy Lab

April 2015

New ways to extract underground heat to produce electricity with enhanced geothermal systems could be tested at a proposed research field observatory in central Oregon.

A team led by the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has been awarded $400K to develop plans for a potential field laboratory – called the Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy, also known as FORGE – on the northwest side of Newberry Volcano near La Pine, Oregon. The observatory will allow researchers and developers to carefully test more efficient, less costly and innovative ways to extract underground heat where conventional geothermal power generation isn’t possible.

The Newberry site is one of five possible observatory locations awarded a total of $2 million by the Geothermal Technologies Office within DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. PNNL is partnering with Seattle geothermal developer AltaRock Energy Inc. and Oregon State University for the project. Project leaders include PNNL geophysicist Alain Bonneville, AltaRock geologist Trenton Cladouhos and Oregon State University geophysicist Adam Schultz.

For the project's initial phase, the team will conduct a detailed analysis of the Newberry's suitability as a geothermal observatory site, and develop scientific, management, environmental, safety and public outreach plans for how the observatory would operate. In 2016, DOE will select three projects to obtain the permits and gather the additional information needed to prepare their sites. Just one location will ultimately be chosen to house the observatory.

Conventional geothermal power brings to the surface hot water or steam that naturally circulates underground. The gathered fluids move through turbines to produce power. Enhanced geothermal energy involves pumping water underground to stimulate or enhance existing cracks in underground rocks to create an engineered geothermal system. Hot fluids and steam can then be extracted for power production. DOE estimates enhanced geothermal systems could allow the U.S. to generate as much as 100 gigawatts of renewable energy, or enough to power about 100 million homes.

This project is in addition to other, separate geothermal efforts at the Newberry Volcano. In 2010, AltaRock Energy Inc. received a 5-year, $21.5 million matching grant from DOE to create an enhanced geothermal system at a hot, dry well drilled there in 2008. Since 2012, Oregon State University and partners have received more than $1 million from DOE to develop new geophysical methods for continuous monitoring of fluid circulation and related processes within the Newberry Volcano enhanced geothermal demonstration site.

For more information, see the DOE announcement.

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