You are here

Road Tripping through the Geothermal Frontier

November 18, 2015 - 9:58am


And they’re off!  After more than a year since the announcement of available funding, the project teams selected for our Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy (FORGE) each hosted our geothermal experts at their candidate sites this fall.  We’re calling it our road trip through the geothermal frontier.

Wait, back-up.  What’s FORGE? 

The Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy or FORGE marks the U.S. Department of Energy’s largest effort to advance the deployment of enhanced geothermal systems (EGS). EGS has the potential to tap into an estimated 100 gigawatts electric of power generating capacity by harnessing the earth’s heat through man-made geothermal reservoirs.  The FORGE initiative aims to develop methodologies and technologies that will bring this game-changing resource into the nation’s energy portfolio.

But is FORGE a place?  A team?

Ultimately, FORGE will be one site, but first we have to pick the best location.  Five candidate teams have been awarded the opportunity to characterize proposed sites for the FORGE initiative, where the geothermal community will eventually conduct research and development projects and share data on cutting-edge, high-reward science involving EGS reservoirs.  The candidate sites include Idaho National Laboratory’s (INL) Snake River Plain location, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s (PNNL) Newberry Volcano location, Sandia National Laboratories’ (SNL) Fallon location, SNL’s West Flank of Coso location, and the University of Utah’s Milford City location, all of which kicked off their Phase 1 work in July.  By Phase 2C, the Energy Department will whittle those sites down to one.


This geologic model illustrating INL's proposed FORGE site is an example of the modeling and analysis work being performed by all FORGE teams in Phase 1.  Image courtesy of INL

Ok, now tell me more about this road trip.

The Energy Department’s Geothermal Technologies Office (GTO) FORGE staff embarked on two road trips in early September and mid-October to visit the sites, meet with teams and stakeholders, learn more about the individual locations, and check in with the teams on the progress they are making. 

The first stop on the road trip was Milford, Utah, where the University of Utah gave us a tour of their proposed FORGE site.  The area is already renewables-friendly, with a wind farm nearby and a solar facility under construction down the road.  Our team had an opportunity to chat with the local high school principal and also went to Salt Lake City to tour some of the laboratory facilities where all the magic is happening – including analyzing the geology of the proposed site and updating seismicity data – in Phase 1.

Next up was INL’s proposed site on its lands in the Snake River Plain.  Our four members of the GTO FORGE staff piled up into a rental car and took in the clear desert surroundings heading north.  Near Idaho Falls, INL’s proposed FORGE site is nestled in the west-central portion of INL’s property.  We drove out into the field to learn about the site geology and geochemistry that the team is synthesizing, along with the available infrastructure if FORGE moves forward at INL. We also toured labs and facilities on the INL campus and met and chatted with stakeholder groups interested in the project and its positive impact on the local community.

Following the INL visit, we drove west over the Cascade Range and into Bend, Oregon, where we met with PNNL’s FORGE team.  There we received several presentations from the scientists working on FORGE Phase 1 tasks and interacted with a number of stakeholders and team members at the Deschutes National Forest Office in Bend.  The PNNL team is taking inventory on the most promising locations for new EGS wells and developing conceptual geologic models.  Afterwards, the entire group went to the flanks of the Newberry Volcano to visit PNNL’s candidate site.  It was a beautiful end to the first of the two FORGE road trips.

The second leg of the trip resumed after the Geothermal Resource Council’s annual meeting, where FORGE was the “hot” topic of discussion. The site visits continued with a trip to SNL’s two candidate sites. The first stop was a site located within the Naval Air Station Fallon, the Navy’s premier tactical air warfare training center. After an update from the local team, we toured the proposed site. Similar to the other candidate sites, SNL’s team is collecting and analyzing data of its local geology and developing models to be used in later phases of FORGE.     

Back in the car, we headed south to the final site visit at SNL’s West Flank of Coso location, where the team provided an update about the robust data sets they are using to update the Geothermal Data Repository. It was then off to explore the nearby mountain range, which shares land with a sacred Native American hot spring, a hydrothermal energy plant, and the site where the SNL FORGE team hopes to develop the EGS field laboratory.

Shortly after the whirlwind of site visits, the team made its way back to Washington, D.C. headquarters, where the five candidate site teams provided their first round of quarterly deliverables, including analysis of exiting site characteristic data and comprehensive team structures. The duration of Phase I will be focused on developing and drafting a multitude of plans and processes for the creation of the final field laboratory. These plans range from environmental, safety, and health protocols to the storing and handling of core samples.  At the completion of Phase I, the five candidate sites will go through a down-select process to see which will move on to Phase II. No more than three teams will be selected for the next round of funding next year.  

To stay updated about FORGE and the Phase I candidate teams visit