New England Granite A Geothermal Hotbed?

We need to expand the popular conception of geothermal power. It’s not just about geysers spurting water and steam, Old Faithful-like, high into the air.

For instance, the U.S. Department of Energy has funneled a $441,000 grant through the Association of American State Geologists to a trio of researchers in New England, where there aren’t any geysers. However, there is a lot of granite, and the researchers believe there might be enough heat obtainable from “garden-variety rocks found in certain special granites” 2.5 to 4 miles below the surface to reduce electricity costs by 25 to 50 percent.

Massachusetts granite distribution, geothermal potential

image via University of Massachusetts Amherst

“You don’t need volcanoes or geysers to have an opportunity to tap geothermal energy,”  one of the trio, University of Massachusetts professor Mike Rhodes, said in a press release. “Most of the Earth below our feet is very hot. It’s just a matter of knowing where to tap it.”

In the first comprehensive survey of geothermal energy potential of the rocks in the northeastern United States, teams will collect some 450 samples from Massachusetts and Connecticut for laboratory analysis. They’ll be looking for “hot granite” — rocks that contain enough radioactive thorium, uranium and potassium to heat water to 300 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. But the scientists say that with improved energy-transfer technologies, “the temperature at which it’s profitable to use geothermal energy in building projects should get lower, which means boreholes won’t need to be as deep, so costs are lower.”

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Sports columnist, newspaper desk guy, website managing editor, wine-industry PR specialist, freelance writer—Pete Danko’s career in media has covered a lot of terrain. The constant along the way has been a fierce dedication to knowing the story and getting it right. Danko's work has appeared in Wired, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.