Environmental Science Division (EVS)a Division of Argonne National Laboratory
 

Geothermal Systems Analysis

Argonne has evaluated the environmental impacts of geothermal technologies to aid the DOE Geothermal Technologies Office in reducing barriers to geothermal deployment.

Although geothermal electricity generation technologies provide reliable base load power, they are more costly than fossil technologies. Without significant subsidies or investment in resource assessment, incremental improvements to geothermal technologies will not decrease their costs to a competitive level in the global market.

Developing next-generation geothermal technologies with potential for low-cost implementation requires multiple approaches — basic science to design materials that can perform in high-temperature, corrosive environments and improve geothermal resource discovery, as well as applied science to optimize reservoir performance for long-term operation, increase exploration success, and decrease drilling time. Beyond this, systems analysis can provide insight into how a complex interplay of issues — such as variability of geology, regulation, environment, and economics — will impact the market penetration of geothermal technologies.

To aid the DOE Geothermal Technologies Office in reducing barriers to geothermal deployment, Argonne has evaluated the environmental impacts of geothermal technologies through life cycle analyses tracking energy, carbon dioxide generated, the amount of water used per kilowatt-hour generated, and materials used in significant quantities for construction of generating facilities. Utility-scale geothermal technologies analyzed to date include hydrothermal binary, hydrothermal flash, enhanced geothermal systems, geopressured systems, and sedimentary systems.

Combining system-level assessments with data on resource availability and future growth projections has revealed potential challenges for large-scale deployment. The Geothermal Technologies Office has used analyses of state- and federal-level policies related to geothermal and water resources to prioritize research aimed at reducing future impacts of enhanced geothermal systems and increasing deployment and growth of the technology in general.

Projected water demand versus availability for new geothermal development by 2030 in an aggressive growth scenario, expressed as the ratio demand/availability (Schroeder et al. 2014).
Projected water demand versus availability for new geothermal development by 2030 in an aggressive growth scenario, expressed as the ratio demand/availability (Schroeder et al. 2014). [Source: Argonne National Laboratory]

Argonne Geothermal Geochemical Database

The chemical composition of high-temperature geothermal fluids has important implications for both the operation and the potential environmental impacts of geothermal power plants. To make the needed information readily available, Argonne has compiled a database illustrating the range of geochemical environments that could be encountered in geothermal systems. The Argonne Geothermal Geochemical Database can be downloaded from the National Geothermal Data System website.

Key Papers

Related Research Areas

See the Research Highlights Index for a complete list of EVS Research Areas.

photo of Louis Martino
Environmental Systems Engineer/Program Manager
Capabilities: Implementation of innovative hazardous waste site characterization/remediation as both a principal investigator and team member. Cost engineering including cost estimation for investigation and remediation actions.