When finished, it's expected to be the world's hottest borehole, a shaft more than three miles deep, drilled into the rifted margin of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Here, two of the planet's main tectonic plates, the North American and Eurasian, are tearing apart as deep molten rock pushes up from beneath. This is Iceland, the land of volcanoes and geysers, a steamy hotbed of unlimited geothermal energy that the country already taps to produce electricity for its residents.
But the Iceland Deep Drilling Project represents a step up from conventional geothermal energy sources because it aims to tap 900-degree F "supercritical" steam - steam so hot and so pressurized, it's neither gas nor liquid. But its power potential is ten times that of steam from conventional geothermal wells. This one could generate 45 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 50,000 homes.
"If this works, in the future we would need to drill fewer wells to produce the same amount of energy, meaning we would touch less surface, which means less environmental impact and hopefully lower costs," the project's CEO Asgeir Margeirsson told the BBC.
And a successful project in Iceland could mean improved geothermal power techniques for other countries with volcanic regions, like the United States. According to a recent assessment by the US Geological Survey of our country's geothermal resources, the electric power potential of known sites is more than 9,000 MW, and 30,000 MW from yet undiscovered sources.
The Icelandic borehole, dryly named IDDP-2, is the country's second attempt to access supercritical steam. The first attempt occurred in 2009 with the IDDP-1 well drilled in the Krafla volcanic region to Iceland's north. The shaft reached only 1.3 miles before striking a reservoir of magma.
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