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Title: Deep Geothermal Drilling Using Millimeter Wave Technology (Final Technical Research Report)

Technical Report ·
DOI:· OSTI ID:1169951
 [1];  [2];  [2];  [2]
  1. Impact Technologies LLC, Tulsa, OK (United States)
  2. MIT (Massachusetts Inst. of Technology), Cambridge, MA (United States)

Conventional drilling methods are very mature, but still have difficulty drilling through very deep,very hard and hot rocks for geothermal, nuclear waste entombment and oil and gas applications.This project demonstrated the capabilities of utilizing only high energy beams to drill such rocks,commonly called ‘Direct Energy Drilling’, which has been the dream of industry since the invention of the laser in the 1960s. A new region of the electromagnetic spectrum, millimeter wave (MMW) wavelengths at 30-300 giga-hertz (GHz) frequency was used to accomplish this feat. To demonstrate MMW beam drilling capabilities a lab bench waveguide delivery, monitoring and instrument system was designed, built and tested around an existing (but non-optimal) 28 GHz frequency, 10 kilowatt (kW) gyrotron. Low waveguide efficiency, plasma generation and reflected power challenges were overcome. Real-time monitoring of the drilling process was also demonstrated. Then the technical capability of using only high power intense millimeter waves to melt (with some vaporization) four different rock types (granite, basalt, sandstone, limestone) was demonstrated through 36 bench tests. Full bore drilling up to 2” diameter (size limited by the available MMW power) was demonstrated through granite and basalt samples. The project also demonstrated that MMW beam transmission losses through high temperature (260°C, 500oF), high pressure (34.5 MPa, 5000 psi) nitrogen gas was below the error range of the meter long path length test equipment and instruments utilized. To refine those transmission losses closer, to allow extrapolation to very great distances, will require a new test cell design and higher sensitivity instruments. All rock samples subjected to high peak temperature by MMW beams developed fractures due to thermal stresses, although the peak temperature was thermodynamically limited by radiative losses. Therefore, this limited drill rate and rock strength data were not able to be determined experimentally. New methods to encapsulate larger rock specimens must be developed and higher power intensities are needed to overcome these limitations. It was demonstrated that rock properties are affected (weakening then strengthened) by exposure to high temperatures. Since only MMW beams can economically reach rock temperatures of over 1650°C, even exceeding 3000°C, that can cause low viscosity melts or vaporization of rocks. Future encapsulated rock specimens must provide sufficiently large sizes of thermally impacted material to provide for the necessary rock strength, permeability and other analyzes required. Multiple MMW field systems, tools and methods for drilling and lining were identified. It was concluded that forcing a managed over-pressure drilling operation would overcome water influx and hot rock particulates handling problems, while simultaneously forming the conditions necessary to create a strong, sealing rock melt liner. Materials that contact hot rock surfaces were identified for further study. High power windows and gases for beam transmission under high pressures are critical paths for some of the MMW drilling systems. Straightness/ alignment can be a great benefit or a problem, especially if a MMW beam is transmitted through an existing, conventionally drilled bore.

Research Organization:
Impact Technologies LLC, Tulsa, OK (United States)
Sponsoring Organization:
USDOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), Renewable Power Office. Geothermal Technologies Office
DOE Contract Number:
Report Number(s):
Country of Publication:
United States