U advances for a greener world

By By Deborah Rafferty

By Deborah Rafferty

Earth energy

Two U researchers are working to make geothermal energy more productive.

Joe Moore, geologist at the Energy & Geoscience Institute and research professor of civil and environmental engineering, along with John McLennan, engineer at EGI and engineering research professor, are in the process of working on a five-year study that will look into harvesting the earth’s energy.

In Raft River, Idaho, Moore’s team of researchers will test techniques to create more fractures in rocks. Water heated from hotspots in the earth will create steam that will move turbines, which will generate energy. In the United States, there are plenty of hotspots that heat groundwater, but because of the lack of fissures in the rocks, the energy cannot be harnessed. The techniques Moore will work on create fractures in the rocks where they do not naturally occur.

“The Earth contains a huge storage of energy,” Moore said. “Even if we only capture 1 to 2 percent of that energy, we would have more than enough to power the United States.”

The total energy consumption in the United States is about 100 exajoules per year, Moore said. With the ability to drill into the earth, these power plants can harness Earth’s energy, which is about 100 million exajoules, he said.

Geothermal plants use a closed-loop system, so there are no emissions that are released into the atmosphere, McLennan said.

Cleaner water

Andy Hong, professor of civil and environmental engineering, developed a new process to remove oil from water.

The process pressurizes ozone into the contaminated water and then depressurizes it, creating small bubbles. These bubbles provide a greater surface area for the ozone to have a chemical reaction with the oil that is in the water.

The pollutants then gather on the bubbles because they are not water-soluble, Hong said in a statement. Because they gather on the bubbles, a sand filtration process can more easily remove the pollutants from the water.

In addition to cleaning water, this process can be used to clean contaminated sediments and soil by mixing it with water and then putting it through the process, in addition to the water.

“If we have better processes to clean contaminated soil and water and reduce emissions, we will have a more healthy environment,” Hong said.