A geothermal energy company is claiming the ability to drill deep into the Earth’s crust and unlock the vast amounts of energy below, which they tout as a possible solution to the desperate need for clean energy. Using millimeter wave drilling systems, Quaise Energy states their technology can drill up to 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) deep and harness the "virtually unlimited" amount of heat found below.
The firm has now sourced $40 million in Series A funding for their venture.
“A rapid transition to clean energy is one of the biggest challenges faced by humanity,” said Arunas Chesonis, Managing Partner of Safar Partners, who are leading the financing round, in a statement.
“Geothermal energy can provide a lot more power using fewer resources. We have to approach the clean energy transition from both of those angles. Quaise's solution makes us optimistic for a future where clean, renewable energy will secure the future of our planet.”
Conventional drills glide easily through rock and minerals found at shallow depths in the crust but get deeper and hard rock, extreme pressure, and increases in temperature make drill bits useless. To create a material that can withstand such conditions would be expensive to the point of redundancy, and so drilling has remained strictly near the surface.
Their millimeter wave drilling system uses a technology that has been theorized for almost a decade, but is yet to be produced at scale. Considered a form of "directed energy drilling" – which sounds like something ripped straight out of Star Trek – the technology involves using high-frequency waves to heat the rock in its path to such a temperature that it either melts or vaporizes. It sounds sci-fi because it quite literally is – or so scientists thought.
Enter Quaise Energy’s "gyrotron-powered drilling platform". The company will use conventional drilling to reach basement rock, before using their new platform that directs high energy waves downward using a long guide. There is no conventional drill bit to melt, and the waves should be able to handle the dense and hot rock found in the depths below.
The company would then use this heat to "repower traditional power plants", removing the need for fossil fuels.
"This funding round brings us closer to providing clean, renewable baseload energy," said Carlos Araque, CEO and co-founder of Quaise Energy, in a statement.
"Our technology allows us to access energy anywhere in the world, at a scale far greater than wind and solar, enabling future generations to thrive in a world powered with abundant clean energy."
To date, the company has understandably remained relatively quiet on the exact capabilities of its technology. As such, it is difficult to tell whether the technology will be viable at this stage, but millimeter wave drilling systems are not without their challenges. For one, they require large amounts of energy to produce sufficient directed energy to melt or vaporize rocks, which Quaise claims their gyrotron source is an efficient device for the job. There are also significant transmission losses of energy when high-frequency waves are sent over distance, with the high temperatures 10-20 kilometers (6.2-12.4 miles) into the crust also affecting the transmission efficiency.
It remains to be seen whether Quaise can deliver on their promises – they aim to build functional drilling machines by 2024 – but if they can, it would be a geothermal breakthrough that would send ripples through the world of clean energy.