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Hot rocks could be next clean energy source

The Connecticut River
Valley “’ a promising
region for "hot rocks"
Amhurst, Massachusetts, United States — ESI-AFRICA.COM — 12 November 2010 – University of Massachusetts Amherst geologists say that hot rocks beneath granite-rich New England “’ as far down as 4 to 6.5km deep “’ could represent the next great clean energy source, with a potential to generate enough local electricity and direct heat to serve small towns, schools and hospitals.

“Harnessing local geo-thermal energy for such systems “’ not from volcanoes or geysers but from garden-variety rocks found in certain special granites “’ has the potential to cut electricity costs by 25 to 50%,” according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory at the American Department of Energy (DOE). “Many businesses are waiting with new technologies designed to take advantage of this potential new source,” it said.

Massachusetts state geologist Steve Mabee, UMass Amherst professor of volcanology Mike Rhodes and Connecticut state geologist Margaret Thomas have received a three-year, $450 000 (R3.1 billion) grant to conduct the first comprehensive survey of geothermal energy potential of the rocks in the Northeast. Their work will also be used to create a national geothermal database for the entire country.

“I think of geothermal power as the Cinderella of alternative energy,” says Rhodes. “Unlike wind and solar energy, it works 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is unobtrusive and environmentally friendly. You don’t need volcanoes or geysers to have an opportunity to tap geothermal energy. Most of the Earth below our feet is very hot “’ it’s just a matter of knowing where to tap it.”

“New England is endowed with abundant granites and gneisses that generate heat deep within the earth and are a potential source of local energy,” say Mabee and Rhodes. “Some developed countries “’ notably Switzerland, France, Australia and the U.K. “’ are ahead of the United States in developing this type of geothermal resource; but that’s going to change,” predicts Rhodes. “Many write off New England’s potential, but we certainly do not agree. After all, 33% of the state is underlain with granitic rocks."

Mabee adds, “What we propose is to see how hot our rocks are and where they are located.

A post-doctoral researcher and several undergraduates supervised by Mabee and Rhodes will be collecting about 450 samples across Massachusetts and Connecticut as part of the survey. They’ll bring rocks back to Rhodes’s UMass Amherst laboratory, where crushed and powdered samples will be analysed by X-ray spectrography.

A hot granite is one that contains enough radioactive thorium, uranium and potassium to heat water to 150 to 250 degrees Celsius.

In Massachusetts and Connecticut, the Connecticut River Valley is one such promising region and another is the Narragansett Basin in southeast Massachusetts. Both are near many towns and colleges that might one day be able to generate clean, green electric power, as well as direct heat for buildings from these local energy sources.