Geothermal energy is a promising energy source limited by factors including the need to locate vegetation in areas with easy access to deep-sea hot water reservoirs. Carlos Arrachi is looking to change that with his company, Quaise, using groundbreaking technology developed at MIT.
“We need to go deeper and deeper to make geothermal energy a truly global resource, so it’s no longer about getting close to a volcano or in Iceland or in typical geothermal regions,” Araki says. But digging so deep — two to 12 miles underground — is expensive and time-consuming. His company found a solution in research conducted by Paul Woskov at the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center. Instead of physical drill bits, which wear out quickly and need frequent replacement, Woskov suggested using high-intensity microwaves from 30 to 300 GHz from a device called a gyrotron. “It’s similar to the magnetron in your microwave oven, but much more powerful and efficient,” says Araque.
The idea is to drill a mile or two to get to the rock, in the past where oil and gas were generally found; Then the gyrotron takes over. The superheated evaporating rock is pushed to the surface by compressed gas. The water then flows in and out of the wells, picking up heat on the way and becoming supercritical steam that drives turbines. One advantage of this technology is that it mostly uses the well-established infrastructure of the oil, gas and thermal power industries.
Araki, originally from Colombia, studied mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He spent 15 years at Schlumberger, an oilfield technology and service provider, before joining The Engine, the venture capital firm the institute founded in 2016. When Woskov pitched his idea in 2018, famed venture capitalist Vinod Khosla suggested that Araque set up Company, providing financing “on the condition that I lead”.
With $23 million in grants and seed funding, Quaise is working with the Department of Energy to scale the technology to build a pilot plant in the western United States by 2024. To Araque’s surprise, he has found support within the typically conservative oil and gas industry. “These companies are starting to understand that they need to adopt [green] It says “energy transmission”.
As the world transitions to cleaner energy, Araki is confident that geothermal energy will play a major role. “We’re talking about terawatts of potential — not megawatts, not gigawatts, but terawatts,” he says. “But to realize that, we need to embrace these very challenging technological tasks. That is exactly what we are trying to do. We want to realize the full potential of geothermal energy.”