Quaise is developing an entirely new way to access the largest untapped energy source on the planet: geothermal energy. and utilize the established workforce, assets, supply chains, and regulatory frameworks of the fossil fuel industry. We don’t need to create infrastructure from scratch, but what about the downside?
Carlos Araque is the co-founder and CEO of Quaise Energy. He leads a team that intends to unlock the heat beneath our feet, a feat that could ultimately power the world with clean energy. Geothermal has the power density and scalability of fossil fuels, allowing us to put clean energy on the grid very quickly. It also allows power companies to stay profitable for those people who want to stay with paying for utilities and don't like the idea of free energy. To scale geothermal to terawatts we must drill deeper, hotter, and faster than ever before possible.
MIT spinout Quaise Energy is working to create geothermal wells made from the deepest holes in the world. Utilizing new technology Quaise gyrotron-powered drilling platform vaporizes boreholes through rock and provides access to deep geothermal heat without complex downhole equipment. Based on breakthrough fusion research and well-established drilling practices, we are developing a radical new approach to ultra-deep drilling. First, we use conventional rotary drilling to get to basement rock. Then, we switch to high-power millimeter waves to reach unprecedented depths.
Millimeter wave drilling will unlock the most abundant and powerful clean energy source on Earth by allowing us to drill down to 20 km and 500° C. Hotter geothermal has more power density. At these temperatures, geothermal is so powerful that it can repower most fossil-fired power plants around the world. It enables a much faster energy transition. Hotter geothermal has more power density. At these temperatures, geothermal is so powerful that it can repower most fossil-fired power plants around the world. It enables a much faster energy transition. Geothermal is a truly equitable clean energy source, abundantly available near every population and industrial center on the planet. Geothermal does not require any fuels and does not produce any waste. It’s truly renewable, abundant, and equitable for all, even in the most challenging energy environments.
Deep geothermal uses less than 1% of the land and materials of other renewables, making it the only option for a sustainable clean energy transition. This technology is straight out of a Star Trek movie! There’s an abandoned coal power plant in upstate New York that most people regard as a useless relic. But MIT’s Paul Woskov sees things differently. Woskov, a research engineer in MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center, notes the plant’s power turbine is still intact and the transmission lines still run to the grid. Using an approach he’s been working on for the last 14 years, he’s hoping it will be back online, completely carbon-free, within the decade.
In fact, Quaise Energy, the company commercializing Woskov’s work, believes if it can retrofit one power plant, the same process will work on virtually every coal and gas power plant in the world.
Quaise is hoping to accomplish those lofty goals by tapping into the energy source below our feet. The company plans to vaporize enough rock to create the world’s deepest holes and harvest geothermal energy at a scale that could satisfy human energy consumption for millions of years. They haven’t yet solved all the related engineering challenges, but Quaise’s founders have set an ambitious timeline to begin harvesting energy from a pilot well by 2026.
The plan would be easier to dismiss as unrealistic if it were based on a new and unproven technology. But Quaise’s drilling systems center around a microwave-emitting device called a gyrotron that has been used in research and manufacturing for decades.
“This will happen quickly once we solve the immediate engineering problems of transmitting a clean beam and having it operate at a high energy density without breakdown,” explains Woskov, who is not formally affiliated with Quaise but serves as an advisor. “It’ll go fast because the underlying technology, gyrotrons, are commercially available. You could place an order with a company and have a system delivered right now — granted, these beam sources have never been used 24/7, but they are engineered to be operational for long time periods. In five or six years, I think we’ll have a plant running if we solve these engineering problems. I’m very optimistic.”
So what's the down side of this? Global warming, holes in the ozone layer, and lush golf courses in the desert all reveal mankind’s ability to mess with the planet. But the Earth’s core, protected by an outer core consisting of some 1,000 miles of 8,000˚F liquid metal, appeared safe from our meddling...until now! Geothermal energy systems don’t drain heat directly from the core. Instead, they pull radiant heat from the crust—the rocky upper 20 or so miles of the planet’s surface—either by sucking up pockets of heated water or by circulating water through the hot rock. Power plants then use steam from the hot water to spin turbines to make electricity. Geothermal energy generates 7 to 10 billion watts worldwide, barely enough to account for 0.05 percent of global energy consumption and far less than the estimated 44 trillion watts the planet produces.
But drawing energy from the crust won’t send it into a deep freeze: Its heat is constantly renewed by the virtually continuous decay of radioactive elements sprinkled throughout it. “Cooling the Earth’s core by drawing geothermal energy from the crust is like trying to cool the western end of Lake Superior with a few ice cubes,” says Paul Richards, a professor of natural science at Columbia University.
It’s a good thing that we can’t cool the core. The spinning metal there generates Earth’s magnetic field, which protects us from deadly cosmic radiation. If the outer core cooled, the liquid would solidify, and both it and the solid inner core would grind to a halt, the magnetic field would dissipate, and high-energy cosmic radiation would bombard the planet, essentially turning Earth into a giant microwave and ending life on the surface.