Development of advanced drilling technologies

Why is this gap important?

Drilling costs account for 40‑70% of the total capital costs of a geothermal power project. It is also a very time-consuming part of the project.

Technology solutions

  • The economical drilling of low-cost, exploration-only boreholes and drilling into deep, hard rock formations poses technical challenges that require new and innovative solutions.
  • Improving geophysical data inventories and geoscience exploration methods, as well as innovative geothermal resource assessment tools, would reduce exploration risks and thus diminish this investment barrier.
  • Two key research areas are state of stress and lost circulation events. State of stress refers to the condition of the fracture networks below the surface that permit geothermal energy to permeate and become usable for transformation into power and useful heat. This is particularly important in enhanced geothermal systems, as the stress field is measured exclusively through exploration-only drilling. Therefore, extending understanding and monitoring of fracture networks could make it easier to site wells more optimally and reduce overall exploration and drilling costs.
  • Lost circulation events happen when fluids are pumped into the reservoir to aid in drilling and are then lost to other underground formations and are not recoverable. Being able to better predict these events and reduce their impact would also reduce drilling costs.

Colored bars represent the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of each technology. Learn more about TRLs

What are the leading initiatives?

  • Bergakademie Freiberg technical university is carrying out leading research, and important research is also being done in other universities across Germany, at the University of Tokyo together with Tohuku University, and by other organisations.
  • The US Department of Energy (DOE) has announced it will put up to USD 7 million towards the research and development (R&D) of innovative subsurface geothermal technologies, with a component dedicated to improving geothermal drilling efficiency, focusing on state of stress and lost circulation events.
  • Although geothermal energy has significant technical potential globally, it receives minimal investments compared with other clean technologies, with funding provided mainly by public research programmes.