Geothermal Energy Research for Michigan

As a member of a national coalition, the Michigan Geological Repository for Research and Education at Western Michigan University has been collecting data from across the state that will aid industry in the identification and development of geothermal energy, and integrating them into the National Geothermal Data System. These data will be available to all those interested in developing geothermal energy resources.

The Arizona Geological Survey is managing the national coalition for the three-year program. Now in its second year, it is funded by $21 million from the Department of Energy.

Geothermal energy

Dr. William B. Harrison III, director of MGRRE, directs this research. He says, "This project will help us understand the geothermal potential in Michigan to an extent never possible before. It's exciting to be part of this national effort with all the other states to address such a critical energy need for the state and the country."

The geothermal energy in Michigan is not as obvious as it is in western states that have geysers and hot springs. In fact, most states don't have that kind of readily accessible geothermal energy.

"What we are looking for in Michigan," says Harrison, "is geothermal energy found in naturally occurring hot brines in deep rock formations." For the first two years of the project, he is amassing data from all subsurface rocks in Michigan, but especially those deeper than 10,000 feet deep.

Harrison is finding his data in two types of well tests originally conducted by oil and gas companies when they drilled deep wells: Drill Stem Tests and Wireline Logs. Those companies needed to know what the pressure in the rocks was and how fluids would flow through them. They also secured temperature data.

Other states are seeing an advantage in the possibility of using their many existing deep depleted or dry wells to extract energy from hot brine fluids, which would save millions of dollars in drilling these deep wells. Harrison says that might be a possibility as well in Michigan—but first we need the data. We need to know where these hot fluids can be found.

By compiling all the geothermal data from each state into one data system, companies can more easily find the right places to produce geothermal energy throughout the country, which would boost the renewable energy resource industry.