West Virginia's geothermal resources could be tapped by using an enhanced geothermal system, in which fluid is pumped into the hot rock area through a pipe looped from one well bore to another.
"Basically, you would use the heat exchange process to heat a liquid, probably one with a lower boiling point than water, and use it to power a turbine," Hohn said.
"Geothermal is an extremely reliable form of energy, and it generates power 24/7, which makes it a baseload source like coal or nuclear," said David Blackwell, professor of geophysics at SMU and director of the university's Geothermal Laboratory.
Assuming only a 2 percent thermal recovery rate, West Virginia has the potential to produce nearly 19,000 megawatts of electricity from geothermal sources, according to the SMU researchers. The state currently produces about 16,300 megawatts from all sources, with coal accounting for most of the power.
"The proximity of West Virginia's large geothermal resource to East Coast population centers has the potential to enhance U.S. energy security, reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and develop high-paying clean energy jobs in West Virginia," Blackwell said.
The SMU study was conducted with funding from Google.org, the philanthropic arm of the search engine giant.
"The early West Virginia research is very promising," said Blackwell, "but we still need more information about local geological conditions to refine estimates of the magnitude, distribution and commercial significance" of the state's geothermal resources.
"We need to get a closer look at the rock types and strata in the geothermal area and learn more about their thermal conductivity," Hohn said. "We need a more precise definition of the potential that's out there. ... It's exciting, as geologists, to be able to research this. It's something you hope to be able to do over the course of your career."
More information on the SMU study is available at the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey's Website at www.wvgs.wvnet.edu.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelham...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.