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Where the Heat Is: USU Geologists Receive $4.9M in Stimulus Funding

Thursday, Nov. 05, 2009

USU geology professors John Shervais and Jim Evans

USU geology professors John Shervais, left, and Jim Evans recently received $4.9 million in Recovery Act funding to lead geothermal energy and carbon sequestration projects.

United States geothermal heat map

A U.S. map of geothermal heat flows, the hottest of which are indicated in red, reveals most of the nation's geothermal heat is concentrated in the American West. Courtesy Southern Methodist University Geothermal Lab.

Utah State University is leading the way in a federally funded $4.6 million-dollar geothermal drilling project that will create dozens of jobs and student research opportunities while simultaneously fueling energy development and deciphering the Snake River Plain’s volcanic history. A separate $300,000 project will advance carbon capture and storage technologies while providing innovative student training opportunities.
John Shervais, professor and head of USU’s Department of Geology, is project director for the recently announced “Snake River Geothermal Drilling Project — Innovative Approaches to Geothermal Exploration,” one of 123 projects awarded Recovery Act funding by the U.S. Department of Energy. The USU-led venture is one of 24 selected “Innovative Exploration and Drilling Projects” focused on the development of new geothermal fields using innovative sensing, exploration and well-drilling technologies.
“The project creates extraordinary hands-on learning projects for students and paves the way for larger, continuing geothermal research projects for USU,” Shervais says.
Geology professor Jim Evans is co-investigator on the two-year project, which starts Jan. 1, 2010, and includes collaborators from Boise State University, Canada’s University of Alberta, Southern Methodist University, the U.S. Geological Survey and the International Continental Drilling Program based in Potsdam, Germany.
The two-phase project begins with surface mapping and surveys of two south central Idaho drilling sites, one in the town of Kimberly about five miles east of Twin Falls and the other at Kimama in rural Lincoln County.
Drilling of the mile-deep boreholes, expected to commence March 2010, will be carried out around the clock for approximately three to six months by the Salt Lake City-based DOSECC (Drilling, Observation and Sampling of the Earth’s Continental Crust) consortium with additional support from the ICDP.
“The experience of being on the drilling site and analyzing samples as they’re extracted will enable students to build a unique skill set,” Evans says. “It’s unusual for undergraduates to be exposed to this kind of on-site learning opportunity.”
Investigators will penetrate earthen crust in excess of 212 degrees Fahrenheit, Shervais says.
“Idaho is ranked third among western states for geothermal power production by the Geothermal Task Force of the Western Governors Association,” he says. “The group estimates that Idaho has 855 megawatts of near-term potential power production.”
Geothermal energy is an ideal complement to solar and wind energy, each of which provides intermittent sources of power, Shervais says.
“Geothermal energy provides continuous power and can be supplemented by solar and wind power during times of peak usage,” he says. “And geothermal energy produces no emissions, no wastewater and it’s renewable.”
In a separate project funded by the DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, Evans received a $300,000 carbon capture and storage research grant. During the four-year project, which also begins Jan. 1, Evans and students will examine naturally occurring carbon dioxide-charged systems in southeastern Utah to determine characteristics required for engineered CCS systems.
Related links:
Contact: John Shervais, 435-797-1274,
Contact: Jim Evans, 435-797-1267,
Writer: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, 435-797-3517,

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