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Non-nuclear energy

Current Enhanced Geothermal Systems research

Fission and radiation protection

Drilling at Soultz-sous-Forêts
Geothermal R&D activities supported by the European Commission

Direct use of geothermal energy from “conventional” thermal water sources for district heating, power production or combined heat and power production (CHP) holds great application potential for many eastern European Candidate Countries. Although the technology for this is reaching maturity, the cost-effectiveness needs to be improved, and non-technical barriers to the wide-scale implementation need to be removed.
Geothermal energy from hydrothermal sources, used for electricity generation, combined heat and power (CHP), and/or for heating and cooling, is one of the short to medium term R&D (RTD) objectives in the European Commission’s sustainable energy work programme. For the medium to longer term, the verification of the technical feasibility and cost-effectiveness of electricity production from HDR/EGS is one of the Commission’s strategically important research areas.

The European Hot-Dry-Rock Project

Since 1987 several national HDR research programmes have been integrated into a single European programme on a site at Soultz-sous-Forêts, France, in the Upper Rhine Valley. The partners in this European Hot Dry Rock Programme include France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and the UK, and the costs have been shared between the appropriate research ministries and the European Commission. Support from successive Framework Programmes has averaged about 40% of total costs, and has been used to maintain the project infrastructure (site management, drilling, pumping costs, etc., plus a small multinational management team based permanently on site). The actual research is performed by national teams with funding from their ministries.

It is worth noting that the scale and demands of such work, in terms of both finance and expertise, are too great for any one country to undertake. This has been a classic demonstration of what can be achieved under the umbrella of the European Commission’s research programmes.

A group of interested companies has also participated in the work since 1992. In 1998 they formed a European Economic Interest Group (EEIG) in order to play a more active role in the work, and since 1 April 2001 the EEIG has taken over the management, direction and co-ordination of the work from the original EC?funded management team.
The overall objective of the work is to develop techniques to circulate water in a closed loop between two or more boreholes through a stimulated natural fracture system in the rock. Such a fracture system can provide a heat transfer surface of several square km. A circulation test carried out in 1997 showed for the first time that it was possible to circulate ca. 25 l/s between two wells at a depth of 3000-3500m and with a separation of about 450m. The test lasted for 4 months and produced excellent results (low resistance to flow, zero water losses). Although the heat produced could have been used for space heating (10 MWth at 140?150ºC), this temperature is not sufficiently high for economic electricity generation. Both the funding agencies and the industrial consortium felt that energy production from HDR would be more attractive for electricity generation, for which around 200ºC would be necessary, so one of the wells was deepened to about 5000m in order to access the required temperature.

Fractured Blocks of Granite

Having achieved this successfully in 1998/9 (202°C at 5000m), the European Hot Dry Rock Project is now well underway to create the underground heat exchanger at a depth of 5 km. This involves the drilling of two more 5000m wells, treatment of the intervening rock mass and demonstration of circulation between the wells at rates of up to 100 l/s. If this step is successful, the following phase should see the construction of a pilot plant with 4 x 1.5MWe generating units. The last phase should eventually lead to an industrial plant (with further wells) with a capacity of 20-25MWe.

The European Hot Dry Rock (HDR) Project brings together at one site all the national activities of EU Member States in this technology. This is an area in which European researchers have taken a world lead. All EGS research for the past 20 years - world-wide - has been directed at the achievement of the key target parameters (creation of a fracture network, sustainable high-rate circulation at depth, zero fluid-losses), but only the European work has made significant progress in the past decade.

Further information can be found at the European Hot-Dry-Rock Project web site: