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Scientists make significant breakthrough utilizing unlimited power source found deep in Earth: 'Has the potential to replace fossil fuels'

"It was evident that if we could get it to work, we could drill very deep holes for a very small fraction of what it costs now."

"It was evident that if we could get it to work, we could drill very deep holes for a very small fraction of what it costs now."

Photo Credit: iStock

Scientists and engineers at Quaise Energy, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology spinoff, have made a significant breakthrough in harnessing an abundant, largely untapped energy source beneath our feet using powerful microwave-emitting drills called gyrotrons. 

Many energy companies and governments are eyeing geothermal energy — produced by extracting hot water and steam in underground reservoirs heated by Earth's core to generate power — as a way to bolster intermittent energy from solar and wind power. 

Diversifying energy sources is also critical to reducing the planet-warming pollution driving extreme weather, worldwide crop failures, and higher energy prices because of increased strain on the grid. A well-rounded renewable energy mix will help lower energy bills while safeguarding people from the increasing threat of natural disasters.

However, despite being an inexhaustible source of clean energy that can run regardless of the weather, geothermal energy has been mostly overlooked because of the extreme difficulties of drilling deep enough into Earth's crust to access unlimited geothermal reserves, as IEEE Spectrum magazine explained

Quaise Energy's gyrotron drills may offer a solution to the problem with their ability to vaporize rock using "high-power, linear-beam vacuum tubes to generate millimeter-length electromagnetic waves," as the magazine reported.

Paul Woskov, a research engineer at the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center, has used gyrotrons in nuclear fusion experiments for years. As MIT News reported, he got the idea to use them in geothermal drilling devices in 2008.

According to IEEE Spectrum, investors have offered Quaise $95 million to develop a gyrotron that can drill 20 kilometers (over 12 miles) into Earth's crust, making the deepest hole in the world. 

If their prototype is successful, Quaise co-founder Matt Houde told MIT News they "can access these super-hot temperatures in greater than 90% of locations across the globe."

Based on Woskov's decades of research, he estimated it would take just over 25 days to create the world's deepest hole.

"It was evident that if we could get it to work, we could drill very deep holes for a very small fraction of what it costs now," Woskov told IEEE Spectrum.

While more research and testing are needed, Quaise has groundbreaking ideas for the future. 

As the magazine explained, the company plans to market its technology to industrial companies first. The long-term goal is to use the gyrotrons to power geothermal plants or repurposed coal and natural gas plants. This would provide the electric grid with 25-50 megawatts of power from each well.

Houde told MIT News that the high-temperature steam they're accessing could replace 95-100% of coal at existing power plants, which Quaise believes is crucial to avoiding the worst impacts of the changing climate. 

This fall, Quaise aims to begin field testing at a pilot geothermal site in Marble Falls, Texas, and later create a larger rig in the western United States.

"Supercritical geothermal power has the potential to replace fossil fuels and finally give us a pathway to an energy transition to carbon-free, baseload energy," Quaise CEO Carlos Araque said.

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