Geothermal energy represents a huge but largely untapped resource. Estimates are that the geothermal potential in the United States could provide 3,000 times as much energy as the country currently needs. But finding appropriate locations with good geothermal potential has required exploratory drilling which is very expensive.
Two researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have now discovered a low-cost method for identifying appropriate locations for geothermal potential that does not require drilling. Instead, they test the groundwater and examine the ratio of two helium isotopes in the water. One isotope is more prevalent in the Earth's crust, while the other is more prevalent in the mantle. The presence of more of the mantle isotope is correlated with locations where the mantle is closer to the surface, and thus sites with geothermal potential.
Some nations are already making extensive use of geothermal energy, but those are the obvious candidates like Iceland and New Zealand. However, geothermal energy is also part of the energy mix that Google recently announced they would be supporting. So this technology may find its way into wider application sooner rather than later.
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