Joe-MooreA patch of land north of Milford, Utah, is one step closer to becoming the country’s hotbed of research for geothermal energy, clean and renewable electricity generated from hot rocks deep underground.

The U.S. Department of Energy announced that the University of Utah’s Energy & Geoscience Institute (EGI) is one of two research groups selected as finalists to establish a multi-million-dollar geothermal field laboratory to develop techniques for improved recovery of geothermal energy. The other group is the Sandia National Laboratory team, which is promoting a site on the U.S. Naval Air Station in Fallon, Nevada.

The award is for the Department of Energy’s Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy (FORGE) initiative.

The DOE-funded laboratory involves drilling two 8,000-ft long wells in an area north of Milford, Beaver County, Utah. The project will use an innovative well configuration to create the fractures required to extract heat from the subsurface, heat that can ultimately be converted to electricity. Cold water will be heated by the rocks as it is circulated between the two wells. After the heat is extracted at the surface, the cooled, circulated water will be cycled back into the first well. The laboratory will use non-potable groundwater that cannot be used for agriculture or human consumption.

EGI has been a leader in developing geothermal technologies for more than four decades. The institute is collaborating with faculty members from the University of Utah’s College of Engineering and College of Mines and Earth Sciences, as well as researchers from the Utah Geological Survey, as well as other universities and experts in the geothermal, oil and gas industries. The Utah research team is collaborating with SITLA (State and Institutional Trust Lands Administration) and private landowners to establish the facility within the Milford, Utah, renewable energy corridor, which is already home to two geothermal plants, a wind farm, a solar field and a biogas facility.

“This laboratory will provide a unique opportunity for researchers around the world to develop and test new technologies for accessing geothermal resources in settings where they are not currently recoverable,” said Joseph Moore, an EGI research professor in the College of Engineering’s civil and environmental engineering department who is leading the team. “With technology development, geothermal resources beneath our feet offer the potential to help meet the nation’s energy needs.”

As a finalist, Moore and his team will receive a $14.5 million grant to conduct environmental studies, an analysis of the facilities that will be required, geological, geophysical and geochemical surveys, and the drilling of a well to measure subsurface temperatures. That work will begin Oct. 1.

The journey to determining the final laboratory site is being conducted in three phases. Currently in the second phase, the finalists have been narrowed from five to two.

This exploratory second phase is slated to last 18 months, and Moore expects the DOE to announce the final site in 2018. The final research group is expected to receive more than $130 million for drilling and research.