Hot wastewater is an ordinary byproduct of many oil and gas wells – a costly nuisance when producers have to dispose of it. But circulating the wastewater 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.

An animation of Ormat's Two-Phase Binary Geothermal Power Plant.

Read more about geothermal technology.


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