April 21, 2023

Geothermal energy research receives major funding boost

$3M project will also help improve public knowledge about emerging energy source
Eavor Geothermal Well
Eavor Technologies recently completed drilling the deepest directional geothermal well in the world, Eavor-Deep, in the southwestern United States. Eavor Technologies

Researchers at the Schulich School of Engineering say momentum is mounting around geothermal energy and other industrial waste heat sources.

Dr. Apostolos Kantzas, Dr. Roman Shor, and Dr. Steven Bryant, all PhD, have received funding for a four-year, $3-million project focusing on understanding and improving processes in capturing heat from geothermal energy systems.

The funding will go to the Energi Simulation Centre for Geothermal Systems Research, where Kantzas serves as the associate director, while Shor is the Energi Simulation Industrial Research Chair in Geothermal Systems.

“Geothermal energy truly is a transdisciplinary energy source and this partnership, which now includes a technology provider, a property developer, a geothermal company, and oil and gas companies, promises to push geothermal to the next level,” says Shor. “This will help us achieve our vision of ‘Geothermal Anywhere.’”

The funding comes from the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and Mitacs, in collaboration with Ashaw Energy, ConocoPhillips, KALiNA Distributed Power, Suncor, Telsec and Terrador Energy, and in partnership with the Alberta Energy Regulator, Alberta Geological Survey and the Geological Survey of Canada.

The project was initiated with KALiNA Distributed Power, the developer of the KALiNA Cycle, a technology for use in harvesting energy from low-grade thermal energy sources, making it particularly suitable for use in geothermal and industrial waste heat to power (WHP) applications to produce zero-mission energy.

“We are thrilled to be working with the University of Calgary’s Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering in finding innovative ways to utilize the tremendous sources of existing industrial waste heat in Alberta and transforming it into valuable zero-emissions energy,” says KALiNA Executive Director Ross MacLachlan.

“Working with Dr. Kantzas, Dr. Shor and their research teams in further refining our technological platform and adapting it for use in the Alberta energy and industrial sectors will be transformative as we optimize the use of previously untapped sources of energy.”

Understanding flows and processes

Kantzas, who is the primary investigator in this research project, says there is a significant amount of waste heat being generated by all types of industrial processes.

“Whenever something needs to be cooled, it inherently creates a source of waste heat, and, in many industrial applications, this heat typically goes into a heat exchanger with a fan or chiller,” he says. “Capturing this heat is similar to how heat is captured and used in traditional geothermal systems, but in a new and innovative way.”

Kantzas says the research is aimed at evaluating and improving the efficiency of different heat-to-power systems that haven’t been considered in the past, while also looking for use of waste or latent heat.

Shor says the goal is to reduce the emissions of waste heat while also improving the efficiency of geothermal systems.

This is an opportunity to pivot our expertise in thermal recovery methods, like from oil and gas, where we already have extensive experience.

“We can use our strong understanding of thermal energy flow in a sedimentary reservoir to understand geothermal reservoirs," he says. "We can make improvements in how we measure thermal energy flow, and we can expand our knowledge to also include thermal energy flow in basement rock like granite."

Shor says this is important because sedimentary rock has fluid in it and pore space, while igneous rock, which is formed from the cooling and solidification of magma or lava, does not.

The next 4 years

Given the duration of the project, Shor is hoping this kind of investment also signals to Alberta and the rest of Canada that we have another energy source ready to be used.

He says one of the biggest challenges to seeing geothermal grow and succeed in Western Canada is technology, which will help reduce capital costs while improving efficiencies.

“We would also like to help improve the public perception and knowledge around what geothermal energy is and how it can work,” Shor says. “We’re hoping to improve the dialogue between regulators, policy-makers and industry developers to facilitate project development, and we have already made some good inroads.”

The research team is already engaging with The City of Calgary, as well as other communities around Southern Alberta including Banff, Canmore and the Municipal District of Bighorn, to help educate about the potential of thermal energy that would otherwise be wasted.

“We are hoping to develop pilot and demonstration projects, while working with our industry partners to ensure their success,” Shor says. “Then it will be important to publicize and share the results and learnings to fully realize the potential of geothermal energy and the role it can play in securing our future energy supply.”

A workshop has been planned for May 12 for people to learn more about the research being done at the Energi Simulation Centre for Geothermal Systems Research. You can find more information on the hybrid event.

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