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Iceland drilling creates world's first magma-based geothermal system

This image shows a flow test of the IDDP-1 well in Iceland, with transparent superheated steam at the top of the rock muffler. Credit: Kristjan Einarsson/UC Riverside
This image shows a flow test of the IDDP-1 well in Iceland, with transparent superheated steam at the top of the rock muffler. Credit: Kristjan Einarsson/UC Riverside

RIVERSIDE, Calif., Jan. 24 (UPI) -- The world's first magma-enhanced geothermal system, created by deep drilling in Iceland, achieved several important milestones, scientists say.

The project was able to drill down into molten magma and control it, allowing the hole to blow superheated, high-pressure steam for months at temperatures exceeding 840 degrees F, creating a world record for geothermal heat, researchers report in the journal Geothermics.

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"This unique engineered geothermal system is the world's first to supply heat directly from a molten magma," said the issue's editor Wilfred Elders, a professor emeritus of geology at the University of California, Riverside, who also co-authored three of the research papers in the special issue with Icelandic colleagues.

A borehole drilled in northeast Iceland as part of the Icelandic Deep Drilling Project in 2009 unexpectedly penetrated into molten rock at only 6,800 feet in depth, with a temperature of 1,600 to 1,800 degrees F.

A steel casing, perforated in the bottom section closest to the magma, was cemented into the well and eventually allowed superheated steam to flow to the surface for the next two years.

"Drilling into magma is a very rare occurrence anywhere in the world and this is only the second known instance, the first one, in 2007, being in Hawaii," Elders said. "Although the IDDP-1 hole had to be shut in 2012, the aim now is to repair the well or to drill a new similar hole.

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"In the future, the success of this drilling and research project could lead to a revolution in the energy efficiency of high-temperature geothermal areas worldwide," he said.

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