Most Central Oregonians know Newberry Volcano for its scenic views and location within the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. But the western flank of the mountain, just outside the monument boundaries, has attracted international attention as a unique source of a new type of clean energy.
Oregon State University-Cascades will play host to a four-day workshop this month for 55 scientists and engineers from all over the world, including the Netherlands, Japan and New Zealand. The researchers are traveling to Bend to study the potential for geothermal drilling on Newberry Volcano.
Adam Schultz, professor of geophysics at OSU’s Corvallis campus, said the workshop will include a trip to the mountain itself to study what makes it uniquely suited to geothermal energy production.
“There is so much potential energy just below the surface,” Schultz said.
Traditional geothermal energy, in the form of steam that occurs as cool water reaches hot rock under the Earth’s surface, has been used as an energy source in the past. However, Schultz said Newberry has underground heat, but no water, making it a good fit for a newer type of energy generation known as “enhanced geothermal systems.”
In it, cool water is pumped 10,000 feet below the Earth’s surface, where it flows into cracks in the rock, the temperature of which can exceed 800 degrees Fahrenheit. The water heats up, produces steam and is pumped back to the surface, where it can drive turbines and create electricity.
“Newberry really is a test case,” Schultz said.
In addition to a well of easily accessible super-hot rock, the Newberry site has an advantage in its existing infrastructure. In 2014, AltaRock Energy, a Seattle-based company that focuses on geothermal drilling, pumped 3.5 million gallons of water into cracks in the hot rock under the volcano. The two 10,000-foot wells built during the project are still in place, as are several smaller exploration wells in the area.
The site is less than 30 miles from OSU-Cascades in Bend, which makes the university, an early partner with AltaRock Energy, a suitable location to host the workshop.
Julie Gess-Newsome, dean of academic affairs for OSU-Cascades, said the campus is looking to expand its profile in Oregon and in the Pacific Northwest by hosting scientific workshops during the summer. The campus will be hosting panels and allowing visitors to use its new residence hall. In exchange, Gess-Newsome said hosting the workshop allows students and faculty to network and learn from the visitors.
“It certainly helps us establish our brand,” Gess-Newsome said. “It really brings attention to us around the state and region.”
In addition to panels on the future of geothermal energy production and other topics, the attendees will visit the existing wells at the volcano, with an eye toward creating a proposal to drill even deeper, to 15,000 feet below the surface. The rock is hotter there and will create enough heat to make the energy source more viable. Schultz said a similar project has been attempted in Iceland, but never in the United States.
“There really is a sense of excitement over the projects at Newberry,” Schultz said.
Schultz stressed that the project would not directly pave the way to commercial development but would yield a scientific paper that could potentially be used for future development on the site.
“It’s not going to happen tomorrow; it’s going to take a lot of investment,” he said.
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