A partnership between the mining and geothermal industries could lead them both to a more lucrative and greener future.
In the United States, there are over 3 million abandoned mining shafts. Each hole drilled in the ground offers more than the ghost of minerals ever found. There are layers of valuable data waiting for the right audience.
Aaron Levine, senior legal and regulatory analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), said he hopes the mining industry becomes that audience.
In his new research, “Mining GOLD (Geothermal Opportunities Leveraged Through Data): Exploring Synergies Between the Geothermal and Mining Industries,” Levine offers a two-pronged strategy of studying mining data and leveraging geothermal renewable energy resources. hidden.
“Our goal is to really target the mining industry for this opportunity and really get them to understand the potential synergies between the two industries,” Levine said.
Geothermal energy is a hidden asset, he said, often located a mile or two underground. It’s hard for the geothermal industry to spend millions on exploration and find nothing.
One of the main methods of geothermal exploration is temperature gradient drilling. Throughout 2017, 31 wells were drilled in Nevada in previously identified geothermal fields. By comparison, the mining industry drills more than 2,000 in Nevada a year and to similar depths.
Levine said the common ground between the geothermal and mining industries doesn’t end there. Additional shared exploration includes surface mapping, geophysical and geochemical analysis, remote sensing, and geological and conceptual modeling.
NREL researchers are looking at data where mines were looking for gold or other minerals and found nothing, except possibly evidence of geothermal energy resources. For minimal costs, the study recommends that the mining industry catalog this exploratory data and potentially monetize it for geothermal purposes.
While some mining companies are turning more to renewable energy resources, Levine said many still rely on diesel fuel to power their operations, especially in remote mines. The study examines the potential for using on-site geothermal energy resources to help improve environmental performance and decarbonization.
Existing mines on federally managed public lands with approved mining plans can even claim a non-competitive lease right to geothermal resources, which can further simplify the exploration and development of geothermal resources discovered through mining data. The case studies described in the document reveal how approximately 200 MW of net power has been discovered through previous mining exploration activities.
Ultimately, leveraging data, knowledge, and expertise from the mining industry will expand the geothermal exploration workforce, increase the rate of discovery of geothermal resources, and potentially reduce the discounted cost of energy from geothermal electricity up to 30%. Mining industries gain by leveraging geothermal energy to provide a potential source of electricity to improve environmental performance and decarbonization.
NREL transforms energy through the research, development, commercialization and deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. Learn more about NREL geothermal research.
By Ryan Horns. Graphics and article courtesy of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) of the United States Department of Energy (DOE).
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