Thursday, April 14, 2016

Science & Technology: DNA-Embedded Nanoparticles as Tracers in Enhanced Geothermal Reservoirs

Stanford scientists use DNA to investigate cleaner energy sources (Stanford School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences)

Yuran Zhang
Stanford researchers found that DNA-embedded nanoparticles can survive the harsh environments of geothermal energy systems, allowing for better mapping of cleaner energy sources.

The key to unlocking cleaner energy might be in our DNA, according to a new study by Stanford scientists. By combining synthetic DNA with microscopic particles, GRC Member Yuran Zhang and a team of geothermal energy researchers hope to tap into the widely available but often overlooked cleaner energy source all over the world.

Geothermal energy is the heat of the earth, and geothermal power is generated by extracting that heat and converting it to electricity. Effectively, the heat moves through irregular cracks or fractures deep underground, so geothermal engineers must have a detailed understanding of the underlying geology and the location and orientation of those fractures. This is where DNA and advanced nanoparticle technology enter the geothermal picture.

Spherical nanoparticles (light grey) embedded with DNA attached to a single grain of sand as seen through a scanning electron microscope following the Stanford geothermal team’s experiment (courtesy of Yuran Zhang).
“Currently, reservoir fracture networks are still poorly known despite advances in seismic imaging, tracer testing, and other imaging and sensing technologies,” said study first author Zhang, graduate student at Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences.

“Nanotracers are able to carry much more information about the reservoir, from temperature distribution to fracture geometry,” Zhang continued.

While currently developed geothermal fields could benefit from a better understanding of the subsurface, the future of geothermal power likely lies in enhanced geothermal systems, where humans inject water underground to fracture the rock.

“The results from this initial study represent a significant step toward our goal of characterizing geothermal resources that are presently difficult to exploit,” said study coauthor and GRC Member  Roland Horne, the director of the Stanford Geothermal Program.

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