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Harnessing Volcano Energy

When we say a volcano is dormant, that doesn't mean that it's dead; it just means that it hasn't erupted in some time. Iceland has more than its fair share of volcanos, and the nation is treating those volcanos as a national resource. A resource of thermal energy that is. The volcano under Reykjanes Peninsula hasn't erupted in over 700 years, but it will soon contribute to Iceland's energy output. A group of scientists and engineers dug a hole almost three miles deep toward the volcano's thermal core.

At this depth, the hole does not enter the magma chamber but does penetrate the rock surrounding it, which the researchers measured to be about 800 degrees Fahrenheit (427 degrees Celsius).

Geothermal energy uses the heat trapped beneath the Earth's surface to generate electricity. Conventional geothermal energy utilizes steam from natural sources such as geysers, or by drawing water from the hot, high-pressue depths of the Earth. The hot vapors are then used to drive electric turbines.

In the case of volcanic geothermal energy, the heat comes from "supercritical water." The researchers explained that energy from so-called supercritical water is much higher than conventional geothermal steam. When molten rock and water meet, the extreme heat and pressure bring water to a "supercritical" state, where it is neither liquid nor gas. In this form, the water can carry more energy than normal steam, which could create up to 10 timesthe power output of other geothermal sources.

Iceland is already a big user of geothermal energy, but with new technology and some time, they hope to meet all the nation's energy needs and then export power to other countries. -via Digg

(Image credit: Milan Nykodym)

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