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Power Science

Iceland Eyes Liquid Magma As Energy Source 215

Posted by samzenpus
from the it's-a-little-warm-in-here dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Scientists in Iceland have been studying and utilizing the power of geothermal wells for years. In 2009 one such study hit a standstill when a group ran into magma halfway into their dig. The roadblock has become a blessing in disguise, as recent research has shown that the magma can act as a potent new source of geothermal energy powerful enough to heat 25,000 to 30,000 homes."
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Iceland Eyes Liquid Magma As Energy Source

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  • Profound (Score:4, Funny)

    by codepunk (167897) on Sunday February 20, 2011 @12:54PM (#35260256)

    How profound, we can heat water with magma.

  • by epp_b (944299)
    You can convert heat into energy? Whodda thunk it?
    • by lennier (44736)

      You can convert heat into energy? Whodda thunk it?

      Actually you can only convert heat into energy if you also have a source of cold.

      • by kwerle (39371)

        You can convert heat into energy? Whodda thunk it?

        Actually you can only convert heat into energy if you also have a source of cold.

        Isn't heat a relative term, so isn't that implicit? Nobody said they would convert ambient into energy. I think that the term heat implies cold.

      • You can convert heat into energy? Whodda thunk it?

        Actually you can only convert heat into energy if you also have a source of cold.

        That's a very bizarre way to phrase it, but yeah, we can retrieve energy from a heat difference, but not heat itself. I'm sure everyone has heard of entropy.

  • Psh, I've been using buckets of lava to power my furnace [youtube.com] for months!

    (Seriously, though, is this a "new source" of geothermal energy? Isn't it more like a "new approach to utilizing" geothermal energy?)

    • by Skidborg (1585365)
      Psh, Dwarf Fortress has been powering the world with magma long before Minecraft appeared on the scene, grasshopper.
    • Yes it's a new source. The old one is water extracted from geothermally active areas, although the water is very hot because of the magma being nearby.
  • by bzipitidoo (647217) <bzipitidoo@yahoo.com> on Sunday February 20, 2011 @01:01PM (#35260296) Journal

    There are a few supervolcanoes around the world. Yellowstone has been going off about every 3/4 million years for around 20 milllion years, and it's due. Toba nearly wiped out humanity 75000 years ago. Can we do anything about it? Defuse them by sucking all the power out of them with geothermal energy extraction?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 20, 2011 @01:17PM (#35260370)

      There are a few supervolcanoes around the world. Yellowstone has been going off about every 3/4 million years for around 20 milllion years, and it's due. Toba nearly wiped out humanity 75000 years ago. Can we do anything about it? Defuse them by sucking all the power out of them with geothermal energy extraction?

      No. Luckily, we can't. Also worth noting that tidal power plants won't eliminate tsunamis, wind power won't prevent hurricanes and solar power isn't going to reduce skin cancer. And more importantly, if any of those were likely to have such drastic effects then it would be a really really Bad Thing to Do.

      • If we were talking about shallow geothermal fields, as opposed to supervolcano magma reservoirs, then it's a real concern. Geologist PÃll Stefansson in Iceland has been trying to get across to people that a typical geothermal area in Iceland might only last on the order of 50 years and would not re-warm on a human timescale.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by onepoint (301486)

      I am no way near as smart as a volcanist ( sp?) but I would think that the concept would work as a power defuser ( as you mentioned ) but yet over time, you would create a champagne cork, it might pop when the earth choose to burp and there is not a flexible surface ( right now it's flexible but if you take the energy out of it, you would reduce it's flexibility.)

    • Defuse them by sucking all the power out of them with geothermal energy extraction?

      To do that they would have to somehow actively make the magma release more heat than it naturally does and that really isn't feasible, if even possible. You'd just be spending more energy than you would be able to "extract." Besides, if it was possible to start really sucking so much heat from the Earth's crust as to completely suck a supervolcano out we'd be cooling the whole Earth eventually and that would rather obviously not be a good idea.

      • A coolant loop will conduct far more Watt for a given temperature gradient than the crust, the problem is the scale.

    • by JustNilt (984644) on Sunday February 20, 2011 @04:44PM (#35261710) Homepage

      I was speaking to a real vulcanologist that works at Mt St Helens a while ago. The current thinking is it's not so much the heat energy alone as gas buildup that causes these massive eruptions. The heat is apparently a small part of it but the amount of gases dissolved in the material is what tends to make eruptions happen. When there's not enough gas in the material, it stops erupting, they now think.

      It sounds to me as though major eruptions are kind of like what happens when you shake a soda then pop the lid while the constant bubbling ones such as we see at St Helens lately is more like what happens when the carbonation just bubbles and your straw slowly climbs out of the glass. The conversation was one of those "well, duh!" moments to me that once you're told about it the whole thing makes so much more sense than before. When I said so, he laughed and said much the same thing happened to him when his colleague came up with it.

    • by lennier (44736)

      Yellowstone has been going off about every 3/4 million years for around 20 milllion years, and it's due.

      Say what you will about the Precambrian, but at least they made the supervolcanoes run on time.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 20, 2011 @01:04PM (#35260312)

    Please, stop cooling magma. No more viscous magna means no more earth magnetic field, hence no more magnetic shield, ie no more life.
    Please, don't dig for geothermic energy. Leave alone our earth kernel.

    • by $RANDOMLUSER (804576) on Sunday February 20, 2011 @01:16PM (#35260364)
      Ironically, the MOTD at the bottom of this page is currently:

      "Consequences, Schmonsequences, as long as I'm rich." -- "Ali Baba Bunny" [1957, Chuck Jones]

      Meanwhile, try this thought experiment: throw an ice cube into a swimming pool full of boiling oatmeal and see how much the melting ice cube affects the temperature of the oatmeal. Now scale that up by a factor of, say, ten million.

      • by peragrin (659227)

        now drop ten thousand ice cubes into your pool and watch the temperature dip slightly.

        • Is your pool the size of the Indian Ocean? If not you're still quite a few orders of magnitude low.

          • ...wait, and if the pool is the size of the Indian Ocean, a few thousand ice cubes will produce a noticeable temperature difference? You live in weird ways.
        • i thought radioactive decay was the source of the heat in the earth core, so the pool analogy doesn't work unless you add a heater.

    • by InfiniteWisdom (530090) on Sunday February 20, 2011 @02:35PM (#35260818) Homepage

      Please, stop cooling magma. No more viscous magna means no more earth magnetic field, hence no more magnetic shield, ie no more life.
      Please, don't dig for geothermic energy. Leave alone our earth kernel.

      Now let's do some math.

      Mass of the earth: 5.9*10^24 kg. Apart from a very thin shell on top, most of that is at a couple of thousand degrees kelvin.
      Magma has a much higher specific heat, but let's be conservative and assume all of earth has the same specific heat as iron, or about 460 J/kg
      Cooling the earth by a single degree will release about 2.75*10^27 joules

      The total world energy consumption from all sources in 2008 was estimated [wikipedia.org] at 4.75*10^20 joules.

      At that rate, cooling the interior of the earth by a single degree would power the entire world for 5,789,473 years.

      And that's assuming the earth doesn't continue to generate heat from radioactive decay, tidal forces, friction etc.

      • Uh, thanks for the lucid clarification. :) For a moment there, I was genuinely worried about geothermal energy wonks cooling the earth's core.
        • Maybe you weren't (assuming you're the AC) but from looking at this thread lots of other people seem to think that's an actual concern.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          on top of the fact that magma close enough to the surface for us to meddle with is has basically left the core, and is no longer relevant to the magnetic field.

      • I will commence my project to extract ENERGY from the CENTER OF THE EARTH unless the governments of the world pay me . . . ONE MILLYUN DOHLLARRS!
    • Please, stop cooling magma

      Seriously, this is just not cool.

  • Duh, someone's been playing Dwarf Fortress [bay12games.com] for too long on that small island. Well, I guess there's not much else to do in the wintertime (disclaimer: it's below -10C where i live now, so I'd better not pull their leg like this).
  • That will allow them to bake a lot of pretty cakes!

  • by otis wildflower (4889) on Sunday February 20, 2011 @01:32PM (#35260446) Homepage

    I guess Iceland's made its peace with geological instability (one would think you'd have to, by definition), but other geothermal efforts around the world are being halted or seriously delayed because of earthquakes they are believed to have caused:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/11/science/earth/11basel.html [nytimes.com]

    • by Fnkmaster (89084)

      I believe the issue with those projects relates to deep bedrock fracturing rather than energy extraction itself. Small mini-eathquakes have also been known to occur near fracturing efforts in the name of natural gas extraction, though those are mostly shallow enough that I don't think they caused effects like the geothermal project in Basel.

  • magma can act as a potent new source of geothermal energy powerful enough to heat 25,000 to 30,000 homes.

    Actually this has been known about for quite some time, particularly by the people who lived here [wikipedia.org], albeit briefly...

  • Liquid magma? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chris Mattern (191822) on Sunday February 20, 2011 @01:41PM (#35260504)

    As opposed to what? Solid magma is more commonly called "rock".

    • Re:Liquid magma? (Score:4, Informative)

      by gilbert644 (1515625) on Sunday February 20, 2011 @02:12PM (#35260648)
      Iceland already produces energy by pumping water into the ground and on to very hot but still solid magma to produce steam energy. So the distinction matter since the reaction is very volatile if the 'rock' is still liquid.
    • Re:Liquid magma? (Score:4, Informative)

      by DRJlaw (946416) on Sunday February 20, 2011 @02:32PM (#35260796)

      As opposed to what? Solid magma is more commonly called "rock".

      magma
      n pl -mas, -mata
      1. (Physics / General Physics) a paste or suspension consisting of a finely divided solid dispersed in a liquid
      2. (Earth Sciences / Geological Science) hot molten rock, usually formed in the earth's upper mantle, some of which finds its way into the crust and onto the earth's surface, where it solidifies to form igneous rock

      Collins English Dictionary

      A plastic or paste. And, of course, you knew that magma could have a range of viscosity from cumbly-looking rhyolite-forming magmas ( Vesuvius, Krakatoa, Mount St. Helens) to fountain-like basalt forming lavas (Hawaiian volcanoes).

  • Sorry, I couldn't stop myself.
  • The trick must be in keeping whatever gets close enough to the magma from melting. It will be quite a feat.

    • Re: One Hot Pipe (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Sunday February 20, 2011 @02:17PM (#35260702) Journal
      I imagine that you would have two somewhat vexing problems: One, as you note, temperatures high enough to melt rocks are pretty hard on most machinery. Two, while extremely hot, magma has a distinctly finite amount of energy available. Once you get serious about extracting heat, it will cool and solidify. Once solidified, it will be a mediocre conductor of heat. Thus, unless you want to get only toy amounts of energy out of the system, you will need a fairly large surface area exposed to the magma.
    • Magma at these depths is not generally hot enough to melt steel.

  • Professor! Lava! Hot!
  • It's all lava (Score:3, Informative)

    by currently_awake (1248758) on Sunday February 20, 2011 @02:30PM (#35260778)
    All geothermal energy comes from lava, it's just a matter of how directly you tap the heat. Heat engines run more efficiently with a higher heat difference, but they have to be designed/constructed to -use- that higher heat. If you cool the lava it will solidify into rock, and your expensive lava to electric generator stops working till you drill down to lava again. A lava generator is cheaper to build but has a shorter life span.
    • It isn't strictly true that all geothermal energy comes from lava. Some of the 'hot rocks' style geothermal projects are tapping heat that has been at least in part produced by radioactive decay of Uranium, Thorium and Potassium. Of course, that means they also have a limited life span, because they will be exhausting heat faster than it is produced.
  • There's some steamy hot action going in Iceland where Mother Earth shows her finest. The Icelanders sure know of f-loving, it's a two-way action on a bed of pure lava. Get your drills ready it's time to go supercritical with magma e-lectric!
  • LTTH (Score:5, Funny)

    by Pope Raymond Lama (57277) <gwidion@noSPam.mpc.com.br> on Sunday February 20, 2011 @03:58PM (#35261420) Homepage

    Yes! Instead of lots of inneficient conversion methods, and n orer to overcome the last mile problem, this would finally allow the deployment of Lava To The Home technology, through some simple piping.

    Besides heating, hot lava could be used in special taps to allow for inexpensive 3D printing, allowing everyone to produce their own custo made Rock Consumer Appliances.

    • by lennier (44736)

      Rock Consumer Appliances.

      Rock smashes Consumer, Consumer buys Appliance, Appliance.. prototypes Rock!

  • by EnsilZah (575600) <EnsilZah@nOSPaM.Gmail.com> on Sunday February 20, 2011 @04:51PM (#35261750)

    You know what they awoke in the darknesss of Eyjafjallajokull.

  • by avtchillsboro (986655) on Sunday February 20, 2011 @05:04PM (#35261832)
    Iceland could be the Saudi Arabia of the Hydrogen Economy: An island nation, w/practically unlimited geothermal energy--with which desalinate seawater; and for making electricity to break the molecular bonds of all that H2O.
    • by Yvan256 (722131)

      And if that doesn't work, open up the nation as a theme park called Magmaland.

    • w/practically unlimited geothermal energy
      You have to be kidding. There are MANY more places on this planet with loads more geo-thermal. However, for the number of ppl on the island, it is a lot.

      With that said, my bet is that unless EU starts putting in pipes that can deal with H2, then an H2 project will NEVER go anywhere.
    • by evilviper (135110)

      You should ask Alcoa what they think of your idea...

      Sure, you could bulldoze the country, and make it a major energy supplier to the world (though many others are in contention, too) but the icelandic people have said no to much smaller projects before, and its likely they wouldn't stand for wholesale destruction of their country to achieve that status.

  • by Sinesurfer (40786) on Sunday February 20, 2011 @05:07PM (#35261856) Homepage

    It's a wonderful idea (and don't get me wrong, we use geothermal energy in NZ [it's around 5% of our power generation]) but the inherent danger of magma is that if you make one little error you're dealing with MAGMA!!!

    it's the second most hostile energy source after nuclear energy, the only difference is the half life isn't thousands of years.

    oh! and 7000 is little more than 2 kilometres, that's really, really, really close for magma (the other way to look at it is that it's a very, very, very think mantle on the Earth near Iceland). Most other estiamtes of the Earth's mantle are ~=50-60 Km's vs. 3% of the average thickness beneath Iceland.

    Good luck to Iceland!

  • I want to see the harbor where they load this stuff into the boats..

  • What happens if every nation, all over the planet, eventually follows Iceland's lead and taps magma below the crust for heat to convert to energy? Will drawing off so much heat accelerate the eventual cooling of the Earth's core and thus the senescence of the magnetosphere, thus accelerating the end of all life on Earth? How much heat can we manage to draw off if we "go geo"? Is the consequence so far off in the future that it is inconsequential? Humans once thought that tapping aquifers and petroleum w

  • YellowStone is showing signs of eruption. Now, would be a great time to consider the idea of taking the pressure off by actually using the magma to run a LARGE power plant.
  • Can this be pulled up and used to form bricks? And how hard is Igneous Rock? The magma COULD be poured into shapes. For example, comes from home wool insulation comes from basalt. Or how about bricks?
    Then of course, the magma comes up hot enough to melt iron. This could give a nice way to create a smelter for iron, or even for concrete.
  • They hit magma while digging? Ouch.

    If minecraft has taught me anything, it is that hitting magma unexpectedly is a Very Bad Thing.

    I sincerely hope that they had a bucket of water handy to put themselves out, and that they weren't foolish enough to be digging the block they were standing on when they hit magma.

Wernher von Braun settled for a V-2 when he coulda had a V-8.

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