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Energy Department Announces Finalists for National University Geothermal Energy Competition

May 7, 2012 - 2:38pm

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Efforts Support the Next Generation of U.S. Energy Leaders

Underscoring President Obama's commitments to keep college affordable, expand opportunities for American families nationwide, and further education in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math, the U.S. Energy Department announced that eight university teams have been selected to compete in the 2012 National Geothermal Student Competition. This student competition challenges teams at universities across the country to conduct cutting-edge research in geology, geoscience, chemical and bio-molecular energy, and engineering that could lead to breakthroughs in geothermal energy development. By promoting STEM education for university students, this competition will help train the next generation of energy leaders to keep America competitive in the global race for clean energy technologies and deploy all available sources of American energy.

Through the National Geothermal Student Competition, student teams will analyze the economic feasibility of developing clean, renewable geothermal energy in Snake River Plain, Idaho. A 2006 study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology identified Snake River Valley as one of six potential areas in the United States for near-term geothermal development. The region has geothermal resources with temperatures higher than 200°C at a depth of less than three miles, optimal conditions for energy development.

Three experts in the geothermal industry selected the winning proposals from a pool of national candidates.  The process was managed by Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE)—a Department of Energy Institute that provides scientific, health and security expertise to advance research and education, protect public health and the environment, and strengthen national security. The competition culminates in October, when three finalists will present their findings at the annual meeting of the Geothermal Resources Council in Reno, Nevada.

The student team finalists are:

  • Boise State University
  • Colorado School of Mines
  • Cornell University Energy Institute
  • Cornell University Sustainable Design
  • Idaho State University
  • Southern Methodist University Geothermal Laboratory
  • University of Idaho
  • University of Texas, Austin

The competition, managed by DOE's Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE), will culminate in October when three teams present their findings at the annual meeting of the Geothermal Resources Council in Reno, Nevada.

DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy accelerates development and facilitates deployment of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies and market-based solutions that strengthen U.S. energy security, environmental quality, and economic vitality. Learn more about the Department's efforts to advance geothermal energy, a vital asset because of its small environmental footprint, baseload power generation, and minimal emissions of greenhouse gases.

The following projects won recognition for eight student teams in five states:

  • Boise State University has undertaken a study of the structural setting and geothermal potential at Neal Hot Springs that will integrate geology, geochemistry, and geophysics to analyze the site on the western Snake River plain. Boise State will determine if Neal Hot Springs sustains the necessary rock dilation and conduit pathways for hydrothermal fluid flow and successful geothermal development. The result will be new data acquisition, including a deep geophysical survey and fault surface data.
  • Colorado School of Mines will conduct an investigation near Homedale, Idaho, an area that straddles volcanic rock and unconsolidated sediments. The presence of both rock formations indicates that the area may contain faults with geothermal potential. By integrating local geologic information with geophysical data, students will gather data that enables them to generate imaging of the subsurface and better isolate optimal sites for geothermal development.
  • The Cornell University Energy Institute will identify potential markets for geothermal heat or electricity through a comprehensive literature review of geothermal resource studies, maps, and models, and through targeted data collection in the Snake River region. Proposed outcomes include a multi-media presentation, including a journal-quality article, that can build lender confidence in geothermal investment and viable proposals for geothermal energy production.
  • Students at Cornell University Sustainable Design will create a detailed profile of the Snake River plain using geologic remote sensing to identify areas of greater thermal potential from a topographic perspective. The information will help to direct drilling and reduce economic risk.
  • The student team at Idaho State University will build a robust hydro-geologic conceptual model of the subsurface, which will subsequently aid in the measure of potential heat production and shallow heat flow.
  • The Southern Methodist University Geothermal Laboratory will collect temperature data at depths ranging from 50 to 3500 meters for a potential Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) site in the Western Snake River Plain. Current data indicates that reservoir temperatures are hot enough for a successful EGS project.
  • University of Idaho students will focus on the northeast region of the Snake River Plain, a young volcanic zone with higher heat flows than other parts of the Snake River. Because of limited geothermal data, this section offers greater potential for new discoveries. Using geostatistical analyses, the University of Idaho team will identify areas favorable for geothermal development.
  • University of Texas, Austin will focus on producing a target map for use by potential geothermal developers. The student team will maximize geoscience capability to produce a decision-analysis model that evaluates geological setting, proximity to infrastructure, and the economic feasibility of geothermal development of the Snake River Plain.

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