Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Science & Technology: Fusion by Radio Frequency Could be Breakthrough Advance in Drilling Technology

Rock, drill bit, microwave: Paul Woskov explores a new path through the Earth’s crust (MIT News)

MIT's Plasma Science and Fusion Center proposes fusion technology to tap geothermal energy.

Paul Woskov, a senior research engineer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC), is using a gyrotron, a specialized radio-frequency (RF) wave generator developed for fusion research, to explore how millimeter RF waves can open holes through hard rock by melting or vaporizing it. Penetrating deep into hard rock is necessary to access virtually limitless geothermal energy resources, to mine precious metals, or explore new options for nuclear waste storage. But it is a difficult and expensive process, and today’s mechanical drilling technology has limitations. Woskov believes that powerful millimeter-wave sources could increase deep hard rock penetration rates by more than ten times at lower cost over current mechanical drilling systems, while providing other practical benefits.

“There is plenty of heat beneath our feet,” he says, “something like 20 billion times the energy that the world uses in one year.” But, Woskov notes, most studies of the accessibility of geothermal energy are based on current mechanical technology and its limitations. They do not consider that a breakthrough advance in drilling technology could make possible deeper, less expensive penetration, opening into what Woskov calls “an enormous reserve of energy, second only to fusion: base energy, available 24/7.”