New Luminescence Method For Thermochronometry Provides A New Opportunity For Geothermal Energy

A new method developed by researchers at the Wageningen University in Netherlands has the potential to locate hidden geothermal reservoirs that can be tapped as sources of energy.

There is a temperature gradient within the Earth as temperature rises with depth into the crust. However, this is also coupled with a spatial variation of heat across the earth, such that the amount of warmth can differ laterally at different locations. Much like prospecting for oil, one of the challenges faced by the geothermal industry is the location of areas with high thermal energy that do not exhibit hydro-thermal activities at the surface.

Existing methods, such as the direct drilling for temperature measurement is often hindered by the act of drilling itself and other factors such as circulating waters that often make temperature measurements inaccurate. However, the new method developed by the Wageningen University could have the potential to replace the need for such methods.

Their new technique makes use of natural luminescence signals of a rock and can reveal low-temperature (<35 °C) information on a relatively short timescale of a thousand years.  The technique makes use of trapped electrons within crystals that formed under the influence of heat from the core of the earth and heat generated by natural radioactivity. Because minute changes in temperature can cause large changes in the signal intensity of the luminescence, the detection of luminescence in earth samples can be used to locate underground heat sources based on past underground temperatures.

Benny Guralnik , who works on the project said, “We still enormously under-exploit geothermal energy, although it is a renewable source of energy.” His new method could prove to be a promising asset to the geothermal industry.

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