Geothermal energy is a promising source of energy limited by factors including the need to locate plants in areas where hot water reservoirs deep below the earth’s surface are easily accessible. Carlos Araque seeks to change this through his company, Quaise, using a revolutionary technology developed at MIT.
“We need to go deeper and warmer to really make geothermal a global source, so it’s no longer a matter of being near a volcano or in Iceland or in typical geothermal areas,” says Araque. But drilling 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 require frequent replacement, Woskov proposed using high-intensity microwaves from 30 to 300 GHz from a device called a gyrotron. “It’s like the magnetron in your microwave oven, but much more powerful and effective,” says Araque.
The idea is to drill down a mile or two down to the rock, past where oil and gas are usually found; then the gyrotron resembles. The superheated vaporized rock is returned to the surface with the pressurized gas. The water then flows out of the wells, taking the heat off the road and becoming supercritical steam that drives turbines. One advantage of the technique is that it mainly uses the long established infrastructure of the oil, gas and thermal energy industry.
Originally from Colombia, Araque studied mechanical engineering at MIT. He spent 15 years at Schlumberger, a provider of oil field technology and services, before joining The Engine, the venture capital firm the Institute founded in 2016. When Woskov launched his idea in 2018 , renowned venture capitalist Vinod Khosla has suggested that Araque form a company. offers funding “on the condition that I lead it.”
With $ 23 million in grants and seed funding, Quaise is working with the Department of Energy on the scale of the technology to build a pilot plant in the Western United States by 2024. To Araque’s surprise, has found support in the usual conservative oil and gas industry. “These companies are starting to understand that they need to embrace [green] energy transition, “he says.
As the world moves to cleaner energy, Araque is convinced that geothermal energy will play a major role. “We’re talking potential terawatts – not megawatts, not gigawatts, but terawatts,” he says. “But to understand that, we need to embrace these very difficult technology ventures. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do. We want to provide the full potential of geothermal energy.”