There is a nearly endless supply of clean energy just below the earth’s surface. Researchers at Quaise Energy, an MIT spinoff, hope to drill the world’s largest human-made hole to harness it. Using just 0.1 percent of the earth’s heat could supply the world’s needs for more than 20 million years, company officials say. Their design for a new drilling system uses high-powered radio waves to melt and vaporize rocks deep in the earth’s crust. Scientists would then be able to collect geothermal energy from the “superhot” rocks beneath. Their boreholes, which could reach 12 miles below ground, would be the deepest in history. Here’s what that looks like.
Conventional rotary drilling tackles digging near the hole’s surface. This includes sedimentary materials like dirt, sand, and the hard rock underneath called basement rock. After reaching the basement rock, the drilling system begins using millimeter radio waves to cut through the tough crust.
At 1,776 feet, the well is deeper than the height of One World Trade Center, the tallest building in America. That’s only 3 percent of the hole’s total depth.
The Burj Khalifa in Dubai is the world’s tallest building, standing at 2,722 feet. That is only roughly 4 percent of the hole.
Temperatures 1.2 miles deep into the earth’s crust can range from 104 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
As temperatures get hotter, the millimeter waves continue to beam through the rock, vitrifying the hole’s wall and turning it into a durable glass-like casing. This prevents the hole from collapsing, a common problem in reaching “superhot” rock.
At 2.27 miles, the hole is as deep as the average depth of the Atlantic Ocean.
The hole gets even hotter 3 miles into the earth’s crust. Temperatures can range from 212 to 302 degrees Fahrenheit. 🔥
Argon gas released into the hole from the surface helps maintain the borehole’s structure and cleans debris.
Fact: Mount Everest’s peak is the highest point on Earth. Inverted, it would reach only 5.5 miles into the earth. That is less than half the distance of the hole.
The hole is now deeper than the Bertha Rogers hole in Washita County, Okla. The Bertha Rogers was the largest borehole dug in the United States, and when it opened in 1974, it was almost 6 miles deep. It was plugged in 1997.
The Challenger Deep is the deepest part of the Pacific Ocean. It is only 6.8 miles deep, 56 percent of the hole’s depth.
At 7.7 miles the hole surpasses the Kola Superdeep Borehole in Murmansk Oblast, Russia, the deepest human-made hole in the world. That is only 60 percent of the drilling.
Ten miles underground temperatures can reach up to 900 degrees.
The “superhot” rock located this deep into the Earth’s crust holds the heat the researchers are hoping to use.
Finally, at the end of the hole, the drilling system injects water into a hot reservoir. The heavy steam from the reservoir returns to the surface to power steam generators. The technology needed to build and sustain such a reservoir is still in the works. It could take 10 to 15 years before such a geothermal drilling system could be available for commercial use.