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Academic Minute

Dr. J. Michael Rhodes, University of Massachusetts Amherst - Geothermal Power


Albany, NY – In today's Academic Minute, Dr. J. Michael Rhodes of the University of Massachusetts Amherst explains the benefits of geothermal power and why it isn't just for western states.

Michael Rhodes is a professor of geochemistry, volcanology, and petrology and director of the Ronald B. Gilmore X-ray Analytical Facility at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Dr. Rhodes also established and operated an XRF laboratory at the NASA Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, where he was responsible for the initial analyses of the Apollo program's returned lunar samples, meteorites and terrestrial materials. His current research includes the study of Mauna Loa and Kilauea volcanoes in Hawaii, Mount Etna in Sicily, and basalts erupted along the Juan de Fuca ridge in the eastern Pacific Ocean.

About Dr. Rhodes

Dr. J. Michael Rhodes - Geothermal Power

Contrary to popular understanding, volcanoes are not necessary for producing geothermal energy. There are vast resources of geothermal energy beneath our feet. The earth gets hotter the deeper we go; all we have to do is drill for it. Just how deep, is the multi-million dollar question! To mine this energy, holes are drilled into hot, fractured rock to depths of around 2 to 3 miles. Cold water is pumped down one hole, and water heated by the surrounding rock is recovered at other holes. This heated water is used to drive turbines to produce electricity, and directly for heating homes, schools and other buildings. The spent water is then re-cycled back down the hole.

This form of alternative energy has great advantages:

It is essentially inexhaustible.

It is environmentally friendly - no greenhouse gases or toxic waste.

In contrast to wind or solar energy it's available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

It can be developed on both a large and a local scale, and unlike wind or solar energy it is not obtrusive nor does it take up large amounts of space.

Most of the current attention is focused on the western states. Prevailing wisdom writes off New England as a source of geothermal energy. However, New England is blessed with granites. Compared with other rocks granites contain large amounts of potassium, uranium and thorium, all of which produce heat through radioactive decay. This makes the granite hotter at depth than the surrounding rocks and a possible source of local geothermal energy. The most favorable conditions occur when a hot granite is buried beneath a thick layer of thermally insulating sedimentary rock. In densely populated New England energy costs and usage are high. It is critically important that we evaluate the potential of this clean, renewable energy source.

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