A Research Observatory for a Sustainable Future

Natural processes generate heat deep below the surface of the Earth. Geothermal energy systems can harness that heat in the form of hot water and steam and use it to generate electricity. However, only a small fraction of this heat is currently recoverable through conventional geothermal systems, which rely on naturally-occurring steam below the Earth’s surface. Enhanced, or engineered, geothermal systems (EGS) use water pumped through geothermal wells into hot rock deep below the surface to generate steam. That steam is then brought to the surface through specially-lined production wells, and piped into a power plant where it moves through a turbine to generate electricity for the grid.

Enhanced geothermal systems technology has the potential to significantly expand our ability to utilize the earth's vast resources of heat located at depth to help meet the energy needs of the United States. Harnessing just 1-2% of the known recoverable geothermal resource in the western U.S. could power the entire country for centuries with clean, renewable power. The technology to do so already exists, but further research and development is needed to bring down the cost of deployment and improve financial return on investment in EGS projects.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy (DOE FORGE) is a competitive funding initiative that seeks to accelerate breakthroughs in EGS though the creation of a dedicated testing site where scientists, engineers, and industry leaders can develop new EGS technologies and techniques. Research conducted as part of FORGE will advance EGS technology and directly benefit to the existing geothermal industry. At Newberry Volcano, the FORGE initiative is directly contributing to EGS research and development through the Newberry Geothermal Energy project.

Newberry Geothermal Energy (NEWGEN) is one of five FORGE candidate sites. Newberry Geothermal Energy (NEWGEN) is a public-private collaboration between Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Oregon State University, and AltaRock Energy to design, implement, and manage a FORGE test site at Newberry Volcano in Central Oregon. Newberry Geothermal Energy will provide infrastructure and a physical site where competitively selected research and development projects can be deployed, tested, and improved, and emerging EGS technologies can be proven to meet the FORGE objectives.

A Clean Energy Solution

Geothermal energy uses water pumped into hot underground rock to produce steam and hot water that can be extracted and used to generate electricity. Using an EGS reservoir, the process can be summarized in five basic steps:

  1. First, cold water is pumped deep into the earth through a specialized geothermal well, referred to as an injection well.
  2. The water flows into small cracks and fissures in the hot rock, creating a reservoir of very hot water.
  3. This heated water travels through the reservoir to a production well. If the water is hot enough, it will flash to steam and flow on its own the surface. If not as hot, the water is pumped up to the surface using a heat resistant water pump. Once at the surface the steam or hot water travels in an insulated pipeline to a power plant.
  4. If steam has been produced it is used directly to turn turbines that spin a generator. If hot water is produced by the geothermal well, then it is used to vaporize a fluid with a low boiling point, and this vapor is used to turn the turbine and generator. In either case, clean, renewable electricity travels out into the grid.
  5. After the energy has been extracted, the condensed steam or cooled water is then piped to the injection wells to complete the closed-loop cycle.

Oregon and the Pacific Northwest offer some of the greatest potential for geothermal energy in the U.S. A successful Enhanced Geothermal System (EGS) demonstration project at the Newberry Volcano would pave the way to developing more EGS projects across the country, bringing large-scale clean, renewable baseload power to our national grid.

The NEWGEN Site

The NEWGEN field research location on the western flank of Newberry Volcano was strategically chosen by the project team for a number of reasons including:

  • Prior to the FORGE initiative, AltaRock and DOE have already invested significantly in EGS research and development at Newberry, resulting in successful stimulation of an EGS reservoir in previously impermeable rock
  • Geothermal exploration has taken place at Newberry for over 30 years and resulted in a wealth of geological, geophysical, hydrological, seismic and other data resources which indicate significant potential for EGS success.
  • Existing infrastructure makes year-round access possible. Large gravel work areas constructed during previous exploration work can be utilized by future projects.
  • Two 10,000 ft deep geothermal wells have already been constructed on the site, and at well NWG 55-29, an EGS reservoir has already been created.
  • Many smaller exploration wells have also been drilled; these have the potential to continue providing further data on the project site.
  • Two highly productive water wells have already been installed and proven
  • Existing environmental monitoring plans have been developed and successfully implemented
  • Newberry’s proximity to local population centers provides easy access to competent local contractors for support work, and lodging for visiting researchers
  • Supportive local community that already actively follows the project and is actively engaged and supportive

Safe and Environmentally Friendly

Enhanced geothermal system reservoirs are created through a process called ‘stimulation’, in which pressurized water is pumped through an injection well into an area of deep, hot rock. The cold injected water causes the hot rock to contract similar to the way an ice cube cracks when water is poured over it. In addition, the water lubricates existing cracks causing them to slip and open. The fluid-filled fractures in the rock extend outward from the wellbore, creating a network of small, permeable pathways that water can move through. Once the stimulation is complete, production wells are drilled into the reservoir and the system is connected to a power plant in a closed-loop, recirculating system.

Stimulating fractures through enhanced geothermal systems creates small seismic events, or microseismicity. Highly sensitive microseismic monitoring equipment surrounds an EGS site during stimulation and provides real-time feedback on reservoir development and fracture location. At Newberry, the geologic and geophysical conditions have been highly characterized and analyzed by scientists and engineers to ensure EGS stimulation can be conducted safely.

Extensive environmental monitoring plans and control measures are being developed for the NEWGEN site. These include seismic and groundwater monitoring plans, and archeological and endangered species surveys, among others. The Department of Energy, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries review, amend and approve these plans and associated protocols prior to field activities taking place. The Newberry Geothermal Energy site is located outside the boundary of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument and will have no impact on the protected area. There are no endangered or threatened species within the project site. Once approved, the monitoring plans and associated control measures will be made available to the public.

Geothermal energy production utilizes water pumped deep into the earth, where it picks up heat as it moves through the reservoir rock. Production wells bring it back to the surface where it moves through the power plant and generates electricity before being pumped back into the reservoir

"Newberry is poised to deliver EGS discoveries and solutions that can lead to wide spread green energy development."

-U.S. Senator Ron Wyden and U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley

Support for Newberry Geothermal Energy

Geothermal energy offers clean, renewable energy that is cost-competitive with electricity generated using non-renewable fossil fuels. Geothermal energy production is safe, uses only a small environmental footprint, and emits no greenhouse gasses. This is one of the most promising alternatives to fossil fuels, and further development of EGS technology will significantly increase our ability to cost-effectively deploy this clean, renewable power source across the country. Here is a sample of the many people who pledged their support of Newberry Geothermal Energy and the advance of EGS. You can do the same on our Facebook page, by visiting our NEWGEN Blog, and by stopping by one of our Public Outreach events, which will be announced on our Facebook and blog pages!