ISU Headlines

Idaho State University wins U.S. Department of Energy’s National Student Geothermal Competition

Posted October 12, 2012

The U.S. Department of Energy announced Idaho State University is the winner of its 2012-13 National Student Geothermal Competition.

Student teams from Boise State University and Southern Methodist University Geothermal Laboratory finished second and third, respectively. All three Idaho public research universities, including the University of Idaho, had teams in the eight-school finals.

This student competition challenged teams at universities across the country to conduct cutting-edge research in geology, geoscience, chemical and bio-molecular energy and engineering that could lead to breakthroughs in geothermal energy development.

"This prestigious award indicates national recognition of the hard work, talent and enthusiasm of ISU students in the field of geothermal energy-related research and exploration," said Michael McCurry, ISU geosciences professor. "We're proud of the students and hope that their accomplishment inspires other students to enter this technical field, and that it helps to promote responsible exploration and development of Idaho’s great geothermal potential."

Through the National Geothermal Student Competition, the DOE sought to advance geothermal education and spark interest in geothermal careers by providing a forum for hands-on learning. In addition, some of the data and analysis resulting from the competition may be valuable to industry and the development of new geothermal sites.

For the competition, students developed professional-quality research reports using exploration technologies to further geothermal power development of the Snake River Plain in Idaho. Findings were presented in conjunction with the Geothermal Research Council’s spring/summer meeting in order to provide an audience and networking opportunities for the students.  The title of the ISU study is "Development of an integrated, testable conceptual model of blind geothermal resources in the eastern Snake River Plain: application to the Newdale geothermal prospect."

 "I believe that this highlights the amazing research opportunities my teammates and I have had at ISU," said Rebecca Ohly, one of four ISU geosciences students on the winning team. "I feel fortunate to have been able to work with such talented students and faculty on this project, and I am proud to have been a part of this.  I hope that this will lend recognition to both ISU and the potential geothermal resources that are available in this region."

The four ISU students – including geosciences graduate students Ohly, Michael Ginsbach and Adam Koster, and undergraduate Holly Young – helped drill 1,000-foot deep wells and recording temperatures, rock properties, and the chemistry of the subsurface materials at different depths to test for geothermal energy sources. This information is being used to make models of what is going on deeper underground. Mentored by McCurry and John Welhan, an Idaho Geological Survey/University of Idaho research scientist based in Pocatello, the students examined new wells near Soda Springs in the Southeast Idaho highlands. They also looked at wells logs and data from other wells that were previously drilled near Newdale east of Rexburg on the edge of the Snake River Plain.

"Our students are helping to develop a robust, creative and testable model for understanding (geothermal) heat sources in our area," McCurry said.

One of the challenges of tapping Southeast Idaho geothermal energy is the depth of its sources underground. The heat largely comes from past volcanic activity, which is dissipates for millions of years underground. A lot of that past activity in Southeast Idaho is underneath the enormous Snake River aquifer and deep underground. However, there are some low-angled diagonal faults, which are cracks in the earths crust, in the area. Near the top of the faults, closer to the surface of the earth, geothermal energy sources may be easier to tap.

The ISU team looked for anything that suggested the presence of geothermal systems and how intense they are. The tested for geothermal energy in areas that have existing power transmission infrastructure so if those energy sources are found and developed they can be connected to existing infrastructure.

All the study’s participants commented on the collaborative nature of the project, which includes input from Idaho’s universities, the Department of Energy, the Idaho National Laboratory, private companies and the Center for Advanced Energy Studies.

For more information about the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Geothermal Student Competition, go to http://orise.orau.gov/science-education/capabilities/science-education-events/eere-geothermal-student-competition.aspx or, for information on individual projects, visit  http://www1.eere.energy.gov/geothermal/news_detail.html?news_id=18314.

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