Star Power

Helium Isotopes Point to New Sources of Geothermal Energy

“A good geothermal energy source has three basic requirements: a high thermal gradient – which means accessible hot rock – plus a rechargeable reservoir fluid, usually water, and finally, deep permeable pathways for the fluid to circulate through the hot rock,” says Kennedy, a staff scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Earth Sciences Division. “We believe we have found a way to map and quantify zones of permeability deep in the lower crust that result not from volcanic activity but from tectonic activity, the movement of pieces of the Earth’s crust.”

Kennedy and van Soest made their discovery by comparing the ratios of helium isotopes in samples gathered from wells, surface springs, and vents across the northern Basin and Range. Helium-three, whose nucleus has just one neutron, is made only in stars, and Earth’s mantle retains a high proportion of primordial helium-three (compared to the minuscule amount found in air) left over from the formation of the solar system.

Imagine the scientists trying to explain that to Mike Huckabee.  Oh hell, they probably wouldn’t have much more luck with Al Gore.

Accessible geothermal energy in the United States, excluding Alaska and Hawaii, has been estimated at 9 x 1016 (90 quadrillion) kilowatt-hours, 3,000 times more than the country’s total annual energy consumption. Determining helium ratios from surface measurements is a practical way to locate some of the most promising new resources.


Alaska and Hawaii probably have the most accessible geothermal power BTW but 3,000 times all the power generated today should be enough for now.

Today prospecting for geothermal power is roughly at the state oil was when a site was located only when oil was found leaking on the ground.

Bush has zeroed out all R&D for a “mature” technology.

Best,  Terry


    • pfiore8 on December 12, 2007 at 17:09

    but it ROCKS!

    okay okay okay… you’re pushing me to get off my total fixation with BushCo and read something else and geothermal seems, from your ongoing conversation about it, worth becoming reacquainted with.

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