The world's first magma-powered geothermal plant

Introducing ICCP-1, the world's first magma-enhanced geothermal system. Located in Iceland, it's an important proof-of-concept that could lead to a revolution in the energy efficiency of high-temperature geothermal areas across the globe.

Back in 2009, as part of the Icelandic Deep Drilling Project (IDDP), workers at the Krafla geothermal plant in northeast Iceland unexpectedly struck molten rock at only 6,890 feet (2,100 meters) depth, and with a temperature of 900-1000 degrees Celsius. It was an extremely rare occurrence, and only the second known instance (the other one being in Hawaii).

Looking to capitalize on the unique find, the IDDP, in cooperation with Iceland's National Power Company, the operator of the Krafla geothermal power plant decided to investigate the hole further.

Engineers cemented a perforated steel casing into the well. The hole was then allowed to heat slowly and flow superheated steam for the next two years. It was shut down in July 2012 in order to replace some of the surface equipment. But the experiment resulted in several important milestones:

  1. They were able to drill down into the molten magma and control it, despite some difficulties.
  2. Pumping cold water into the hole to break up the rock next to the magma created high permeability (hydrofracking) which reached connection to the colder geothermal environments above.
  3. They were able to set steel casing down to the bottom of the hole.
  4. Which in turn allowed the hole to blow superheated, high‐pressure steam for months at temperatures over 450 °C — beating the world record for geothermal heat, while becoming the hottest and one of the most powerful in the world; according to the measured output the available power was sufficient to generate up to 36 megawatts of electricity, compared to the installed electrical capacity of 60 megawatts in the Krafla power plant.
  5. It successfully demonstrated the capability of coping with the difficult chemical composition of steam from IDDP‐1 by using simple countermeasures.
  6. It demonstrated that the steam could be taken directly into the existing power plant at Krafla (the National Power Company was preparing to do just this before the hole had to be closed due to a valve failure).
  7. By successfully drilling the hole and carrying out experiments, the IDDP‐1 demonstrated that a high‐enthalpy geothermal system can be created in this way, meaning that a Magma‐EGS system was created by IDDP‐1.

It's worth noting that this system differs from other geothermal schemes:

In various parts of the world so‐called EGS geothermal systems (Enhanced or Engineered Geothermal Systems) are being created by pumping cold water into hot dry rocks at 4‐5 km depths. Then the heated water is taken up again as hot water or steam from nearby production wells. In recent decades, there has been considerable effort invested in Europe, Australia, USA, news from the IcelandDeepDrilling Project (IDDP) and Japan, with uneven results and typically poor results.

With IDDP project we can claim to have created such an EGS system, the first system in the world that supplies heat so to speak directly from a molten magma. This is remarkable globally. The hot and dry contact rocks were fractured by cooling during drilling and a connection established to the overlying conventional geothermal system. Then the process was reversed by flowing the IDDP‐1 hole, emitting hot fluids up through the hole which created low pressure condition around the bottom of the hole, attracting colder fluids (~350°C) from above to descend downwards into the hole and be heated to temperatures ranging up to 452°C

Looking ahead, the engineers plan on drilling a similar hole and/or repair IDDP-1 (which is unusable at the moment).

Read the entire study at Geothermics: "Iceland Deep Drilling Project: The first well, IDDP-1, drilled into magma."

Image: IDDP