Geothermal energy is a promising source of energy that is limited by factors including the need to find plants in areas where deep warm water reservoirs are easily accessible below the surface of the earth. Carlos Arak is considering replacing it with quizzes by his company, using groundbreaking technology developed at MIT.
“We need to go deeper and warmer to make geothermal a truly global resource, so it’s no longer a matter of living near a volcano or in Iceland or in a typical geothermal zone,” says Arak. But drilling two to 12 miles deep underground is expensive and time consuming. His company found a solution in research conducted by Paul Voskov at the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center. Instead of physical drill bits, which wear out quickly and need frequent replacement, Voskov proposed using high-intensity 30- to 300-GHz microwaves from a device called gyrotron. “It’s like a magnetron in your microwave oven, but more powerful and efficient,” says Arak.
The idea is to drill a mile or two down to Bedrock, where oil and gas are usually found; Then the gyrotron takes possession. A rock with a superheated evaporator is pushed back to the surface with a pressurized gas. The water then flows in and out of the wells, heats up along the way and becomes supercritical steam which drives the turbine. One advantage of this technique is that it largely uses the long-established infrastructure of the oil, gas and thermal power industries.
Originally from Columbia, Arak studied mechanical engineering at MIT. He spent 15 years at Schlumberger, an oilfield technology and service provider, before joining venture capital firm The Engine, founded in 2016. When Voskov presented his idea in 2018, renowned venture capitalist Vinod Khosla suggested Arak form a company, offering funding “on the condition that I lead it.”
With a 23 million grant and seed funding, Quaise is working with the Department of Energy to enhance pilot plant technology in the western US by 2024. Surprisingly, Arak has found support in the conservative oil and gas industry in general. “These companies are beginning to realize that they need to adapt [green] Energy transition, ”he says.
As the world moves towards clean energy, Arak is confident that geothermal will play a key role. “We’re talking about potential terawatts – not megawatts, not gigawatts, but terawatts,” he says. “But to understand that, we need to embrace these very difficult technological undertakings. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do. We want to deliver at full geothermal capacity. “