A fusion bit drilling a hole about 20 km deep could extract clean and abundant energy. This is at least the idea of Quale, an initiative that proposes the exploration of geothermal energy hidden under our feet.
For Quale, geothermal energy is the only renewable and inexhaustible solution with the potential to make it available anywhere on the planet. To access it, you don’t need to go beyond the earth’s crust, let alone the mantle — just 20 km below the surface.
There, researchers can obtain a temperature of up to 500°, which would be enough to “refuel most fossil fuel power plants in the world”, indicates the website of the startup, which has just raised 40 million dollars in funding.
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The money will go into smelting technology to drill one of the deepest holes ever. To do this, they will use a machine called a gyrotron, normally used to create millimeter electromagnetic waves to superheat the plasma in nuclear fusion reactors.
Instead of the plasma used in the reactors, Quale aimed the equipment at the ground to pierce it with energy beams. According to Paul Woskov, a senior fusion research engineer at MIT, just 0.1% of its geothermal energy could “meet the world’s energy needs for more than 20 million years.”
Some natural heat sources exist naturally, but they are very rare and shallow. Therefore, geothermal energy currently provides only about 0.3% of global energy consumption. With fusion drilling, one would reach the required depth.
The deepest hole mankind has ever drilled is the Kola Superdeep Borehole, a Russian project started in 1970 with the aim of reaching the mantle. One of its holes reached a record depth of 12,289m, but the team concluded that it was impossible to go deeper.
The expected temperature at this depth was around 100°C, but Kola’s team found it to be close to 180°C. With technologies such as the gyrotron – equipment originally developed in Soviet Russia in the mid-1960s – it is planned to drill to a depth of 20 km.
Gyrotrons generate electromagnetic waves in the millimeter part of the spectrum, with wavelengths shorter than microwaves and longer than visible or infrared light. They are used to heat plasma in nuclear fusion reactors and have come a long way in recent decades.
There are other advantages to geothermal energy, the little space it will occupy on the surface compared to solar and wind energy on an industrial scale. It could also lead to global geopolitical change, as all countries will have equal access to their own virtually inexhaustible, carbon-free source of energy.