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SMU geothermal conference


SMU's renowned Geothermal Laboratory will share the blueprint for generating geothermal electricity from waste water produced by oil and gas wells at a conference on the Dallas campus Nov. 3-4. Late registration is available at check-in Nov. 3.

Volatile petroleum prices, federal tax incentives and technology developments are feeding a surge of interest in co-production of geothermal energy from oil and gas wells. The SMU conference is designed to bring business and landowners together with technical, operational and financial players to help incubate geothermal energy ventures.

The oil crisis of the 1970s fed intense interest in geothermal energy, but the technology available at the time required high heat sources, like California's Geysers Field, or costly exploration work to find and reach hot rock buried deep beneath the earth. Interest in the large capital investment required of old-school geothermal production waned when the price of oil came back down.

But new technology developed in association with SMU research provides the capability to produce electricity using much lower water temperatures and smaller, less expensive, turbines that can easily be transported to locations. The technology delivers a cost-effective, environment-friendly alternative energy not dependent on weather variables.


Hot waste water is an ordinary byproduct of many oil and gas wells a costly nuisance when producers have to dispose of it. But circulating the waste water through a specially designed binary power plant installed at the wellhead can drive a turbine to generate electricity. SMU studies indicate there are thousands of oil and gas wells in Texas that could be economical for geothermal development.

Running the binary pump concurrently with oil and gas production offsets the cost of power normally required for oilfield production a job that gets more difficult and expensive as petroleum resources are depleted. Whatever excess electricity is produced could be sold back to the statewide electric transmission grid. And depleted oil and gas wells that are slated for abandonment could still generate revenue when tapped for geothermal production alone.

David Blackwell, SMU's Hamilton Professor of Geothermal Studies, and Maria Richards, director of SMU's Geothermal Lab are acknowledged experts in U.S. geothermal resources. The pair recently completed an assessment of geothermal resources in South and East Texas for the Texas State Energy Conservation Office, or SECO, finding enough heat to supply Texas with clean, renewable, affordable electricity for hundreds of years.

Blackwell's mapping of North American geothermal resources and his research into using oil and gas wells as a source of geothermal electricity has dramatically expanded the potential for global geothermal energy production, says Geothermal Energy Association executive director Karl Gawell. Blackwell was recently awarded the prestigious Joseph W. Aidlin Award at the annual meeting of the Geothermal Resources Council, given annually for outstanding contributions to the development of geothermal energy.


Contact: Kim Cobb
Southern Methodist University

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