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Modeling Capabilities for Exploring Geothermal Options


A significant contribution was made this year by our IGERT students working in the geothermal area. Trainees Don Fox, Andrea Aguirre, and Erin Camp, working as a team with affiliates Koenraad Beckers, Maciej Lukawski, Tim Reber and several students in Masters of Engineering programs, were able to develop significant modeling capabilities for exploring geothermal options on both a regional level and at specific sites. This work has led to more than 4 published papers in conference proceedings and one in an archival journal. This year many more papers will be submitted to archival journals. This work has led to a new economic modeling code, GEOPHIRES, that allows investigators to evaluate options for electric power, district heating and cooling, and combined heat and power. It has a user-friendly interface with updated drilling costs, a platform that provides estimated costs for district heat and cooling infrastructure, an improved reservoir model, and the capability to do detailed sensitivity studies. In addition to these attributes, the student team continues its work on modeling geothermal heat pump systems, thermal energy storage, and geothermal resource assessment (in collaboration with Professors David Blackwell and Maria Richards at Southern Methodist University and a number of other collaborators) to identify attractive geothermal options in Pennsylvania and New York State.

Address Goals

Discovery: This work meets NSF’s aspirations of discovery through its multifaceted progress toward enabling transformation of the nation’s energy supply system to include widely the use of low-grade geothermal resources. Progress was made to understand the time needed for an Enhanced Geothermal System reservoir to recover after several years of heat production, which is knowledge that is fundamental to designing EGS systems. The team’s progress toward characterizing both the physical resource of heat in the rocks below much of Pennsylvania and New York and the most economically favorable combinations of communities and natural resources advances the interdisciplinary frontier of energy system knowledge. Learning: The student research team is diverse in several dimensions. Two of three IGERT trainees on the team are of Hispanic background, and two of them are women. They also come from different disciplines (Chemical Engineering, Civil & Environmental Engineering, Geological Sciences) to work together on an interdisciplinary problem. The three IGERT affiliated students who contributed strongly to the team further round out the diversity, as two of them are international students and one a U.S. majority male. An accomplishment of this group is that they have translated what might be considered to be abstract scientific and engineering research into a product that displays to the people of New York and Pennsylvania the potential for utilization of geothermal energy at a spatial scale that connects clearly to individual communities and in economic terms that are vital to those who make decisions about the future of those communities.