Bubbling to the surface: WVU engineers develop new geothermal energy technology | WVU Today

Ansan Pokharel, graduate mechanical and aerospace engineering student, is testing the improved sparger design developed by engineers at West Virginia University.
(WVU photo / Paige Nesbit)

As alternative energy sources have become necessary to reduce global CO2 emissions and meet growing energy demands, researchers from University of West Virginia had ideas that bubble to the top – literally.

As part of the American-Made Geothermal Manufacturing Prize Competition, a challenge designed to drive innovation and address manufacturing challenges in geothermal environments, Associate Professor Terence Musho and Berry Chair Emeritus Nigel Clark by doing Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, have developed a new airlift approach to optimize current geothermal pumping technologies.

The two most common methods of bringing geothermal fluids to the surface are using a linear shaft pump or a submersible pump, although both methods have limits. The method proposed by the engineers uses a 3D printed device – a spray head – to create bubbles and raise water to the surface.

An improved airlift spar head design will revolutionize what the industry has done so far and eliminate the linear shaft pump, ”said Musho. “We can access much deeper geothermal wells that are usually at higher temperatures, which is better for direct use and power generation applications.”

By blowing air deep into a geothermal borehole, it then rises to interact with geothermal fluids. As the air bubbles rise to the top of the borehole, an exchange of momentum causes the geothermal fluids to rise.

According to Musho, the technology works similarly to an automatic filter coffee machine. Usually the water boils and travels up a pipe; Instead of boiling the water, this method injects air into the water, which relies on the same buoyancy force to bring liquids to the surface.

“The focus of this project is on creating bubbles efficiently,” said Musho.

“Software-based optimization will provide a more efficient operating environment by tailoring bubble generation to a specific wellbore condition.”

The advantages of geothermal energy generation are manifold: In contrast to wind and sun, geothermal power plants produce electricity around the clock; according to the DOE, modern systems do not emit greenhouse gases and have a smaller physical footprint than other energy generation systems.

Musho and Clark have teamed up for the competition with industry colleagues Dan Hand, a professional engineer from Sustainable Engineering LLC, and Roy Mink of Mink GeoHydro Inc. Researchers work in the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory to deploy their state-of-the-art metal 3D printers.

As the semi-finalists of the competition, the team will submit their entry for the make phase of the competition in November. If its technology is selected, it will be tested on working geothermal wells and the Statler College team will receive up to $ 250,000 in cash in prizes and up to $ 50,000 in vouchers.


on / 07/27/21

CONTACT: Paige Nesbit
Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources

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