Skip to main content

New drilling tech could tap Earth’s geothermal energy by melting through rocks

An abundant source of geothermal energy exists far, far beneath our feet, but accessing it isn’t exactly easy. Ordinarily, drilling methods are unable to break through the dense rock and high-pressure conditions encountered when trying to dig down that far. However, a new type of “enhanced” drilling system may be able to help.

As detailed by IEEE Spectrum, the Seattle-based company AltaRock Energy is developing futuristic drilling technology that could “melt and vaporize rocks” using millimeter waves. These specially designed high-frequency microwave-beam generators could enable drillers to penetrate rocks faster, at greater depths, and — every bit as importantly — at a lower cost than existing conventional drills.

According to AltaRock, a miniscule 0.1% of Earth’s heat content could handle humanity’s total energy requirements for around 2 million years. But tapping these extreme temperatures, which can reach 10,800-degrees Fahrenheit (6,000-degrees Celsius) at Earth’s core, is tough. The majority of geothermal projects drill down to depths no greater than 3 kilometers due to financial and technical challenges. As a result, geothermal energy currently makes up only around 0.2% of Earth’s global power capacity.

“Today, we have an access problem,” Carlos Araque, CEO of AltaRock affiliate Quaise, told IEEE Spectrum. “The promise is that, if we could drill 10 to 20 kilometers deep, we’d basically have access to an infinite source of energy.”

AltaRock has received a $3.9 million grant from the United States Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E) division. This covers a three-year initiative, during which scientists will test and demonstrate the high-frequency microwave beam technology at a series of ever-increasing scales. They will reportedly start with small “hand-size” samples and proceed to “room-size” slabs.

A project page for the initiative notes that: “[Research and development] will include benchtop testing, as well as larger scale demonstrations of directed [millimeter wave] drilling at unprecedented borehole lengths and power levels. A detailed modeling and simulations campaign carried out with the experimental work will provide the basis for the design of larger, commercial-scale systems.”

Partners in the project hope that it will be possible to begin drilling at real-world test sites before the grant ends in September 2022.

Hey, maybe while they’re down there they could retrieve the quadrillion tons of diamonds that reportedly exist some 100 miles below our planet’s surface — deeper than any previous drilling expedition has been before.

Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
Digital Trends’ Top Tech of CES 2023 Awards
Best of CES 2023 Awards Our Top Tech from the Show Feature

Let there be no doubt: CES isn’t just alive in 2023; it’s thriving. Take one glance at the taxi gridlock outside the Las Vegas Convention Center and it’s evident that two quiet COVID years didn’t kill the world’s desire for an overcrowded in-person tech extravaganza -- they just built up a ravenous demand.

From VR to AI, eVTOLs and QD-OLED, the acronyms were flying and fresh technologies populated every corner of the show floor, and even the parking lot. So naturally, we poked, prodded, and tried on everything we could. They weren’t all revolutionary. But they didn’t have to be. We’ve watched enough waves of “game-changing” technologies that never quite arrive to know that sometimes it’s the little tweaks that really count.

Read more
Digital Trends’ Tech For Change CES 2023 Awards
Digital Trends CES 2023 Tech For Change Award Winners Feature

CES is more than just a neon-drenched show-and-tell session for the world’s biggest tech manufacturers. More and more, it’s also a place where companies showcase innovations that could truly make the world a better place — and at CES 2023, this type of tech was on full display. We saw everything from accessibility-minded PS5 controllers to pedal-powered smart desks. But of all the amazing innovations on display this year, these three impressed us the most:

Samsung's Relumino Mode
Across the globe, roughly 300 million people suffer from moderate to severe vision loss, and generally speaking, most TVs don’t take that into account. So in an effort to make television more accessible and enjoyable for those millions of people suffering from impaired vision, Samsung is adding a new picture mode to many of its new TVs.
[CES 2023] Relumino Mode: Innovation for every need | Samsung
Relumino Mode, as it’s called, works by adding a bunch of different visual filters to the picture simultaneously. Outlines of people and objects on screen are highlighted, the contrast and brightness of the overall picture are cranked up, and extra sharpness is applied to everything. The resulting video would likely look strange to people with normal vision, but for folks with low vision, it should look clearer and closer to "normal" than it otherwise would.
Excitingly, since Relumino Mode is ultimately just a clever software trick, this technology could theoretically be pushed out via a software update and installed on millions of existing Samsung TVs -- not just new and recently purchased ones.

Read more
AI turned Breaking Bad into an anime — and it’s terrifying
Split image of Breaking Bad anime characters.

These days, it seems like there's nothing AI programs can't do. Thanks to advancements in artificial intelligence, deepfakes have done digital "face-offs" with Hollywood celebrities in films and TV shows, VFX artists can de-age actors almost instantly, and ChatGPT has learned how to write big-budget screenplays in the blink of an eye. Pretty soon, AI will probably decide who wins at the Oscars.

Within the past year, AI has also been used to generate beautiful works of art in seconds, creating a viral new trend and causing a boon for fan artists everywhere. TikTok user @cyborgism recently broke the internet by posting a clip featuring many AI-generated pictures of Breaking Bad. The theme here is that the characters are depicted as anime characters straight out of the 1980s, and the result is concerning to say the least. Depending on your viewpoint, Breaking Bad AI (my unofficial name for it) shows how technology can either threaten the integrity of original works of art or nurture artistic expression.
What if AI created Breaking Bad as a 1980s anime?
Playing over Metro Boomin's rap remix of the famous "I am the one who knocks" monologue, the video features images of the cast that range from shockingly realistic to full-on exaggerated. The clip currently has over 65,000 likes on TikTok alone, and many other users have shared their thoughts on the art. One user wrote, "Regardless of the repercussions on the entertainment industry, I can't wait for AI to be advanced enough to animate the whole show like this."

Read more