Brighton academics helping to explore how energy beneath us can be sourced
University of Brighton researchers have received funding from Innovate UK to test how next-generation drills can help source sustainable geothermal energy – which could one day replace fossil fuels.
Working with GA Drilling, MTech-UK Associates and Advanced Analysis, £417,599 has been awarded to the project by The Sustainable Innovation Fund, with the university given £102,864 for its part, which will be led by Dr Konstantina Vogiatzaki and Professor Cyril Crua from the School of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics.
The aim of the project is to offer a step change in geothermal drilling technologies and support the decarbonisation of the energy sector following COVID-19. The university will offer its expertise by carrying out studies of combustion at high pressures within the Advanced Engineering Centre, before advising GA Drilling on the best combustion system for a full-scale drilling tool.
Geothermal energy (heat coming from the sub-surface of the earth), is the only 24/7 renewable energy source which could realistically produce a significant quantity to replace fossil fuels, but its path is often blocked due to challenges beneath the surface.
At the bottom reaches of the drills the temperatures can exceed 300 degrees Celsius, so developing the technology to effectively break through hard rock in a cost-effective way is not easy.
With the drills also coming under extreme pressure as they go deeper (up to 1000 bar), plasma drills are emerging as a faster and cheaper way to dig deep for geothermal power, which could make the energy commercially viable.
Dr Vogiatzaki said: “I am very excited to lead this Innovate project in partnership with GA Drilling.
“This partnership allows us to apply our advanced numerical tools developed for supercritical fluids in transportation systems to a different field of application (geothermal plasma drilling), diversifying our research portfolio.
“The project strengthens our commitment in bridging the gap between academia and industries and supports knowledge transfer between the two sectors.”
Igor Kocis, GA Drilling CEO said: “Funding from Innovate UK and cooperation with one of the university will move the development of our drilling technology to a higher technology readiness level, and it is another step closer to decarbonising the planet. We appreciate the transparency of the tender as well as the fact that the state support is coming at the Covid time and is focused on sustainable solutions.”
Innovate UK, as part of UK Research and Innovation, is investing up to £191 million to fund single and collaborative research and development projects as part of the Sustainable Innovation Fund over the next two years. The aim of these competitions is to help all sectors of the UK rebuild after the effects of COVID-19.
The Sustainable Innovation Fund is funding 1,103 projects, 1189 UK businesses and totalling over £130 million in support across the UK.
Innovate UK Executive Chair Dr Ian Campbell said: “In these difficult times we have seen the best of British business innovation. The pandemic is not just a health emergency but one that impacts society and the economy.
This project, along with every initiative Innovate UK has supported through this fund, is an important step forward in driving sustainable economic development. Each one is also helping to realise the ambitions of hard-working people.”