The Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s (DOE-EERE’s) Geothermal Technologies Office (GTO) defines FORGE’s mission as “enabling cutting-edge research and drilling and technology testing, as well as to allow scientists to identify a replicable, commercial pathway to enhanced geothermal systems (EGSs).” In addition to the site itself, the FORGE effort will include a robust instrumentation, data collection, and data dissemination component to capture and share data and activities occurring at FORGE in real time. The innovative research, coupled with an equally innovative collaboration and management platform, is truly a first-of-its-kind endeavor.

Geothermal energy plant at The Geysers near Santa Rosa in Northern California, the world's largest electricity-generating geothermal development. (NREL photo)

Geothermal energy plant at The Geysers near Santa Rosa in Northern California, the world’s largest electricity-generating geothermal development. (NREL photo)

R&D Activities

All FORGE R&D activities will focus on strengthening our understanding of the key mechanisms controlling EGS success—specifically, how to initiate and sustain fracture networks in basement rock formations. This critical knowledge will be used to design and test a methodology for developing large-scale, economically sustainable heat-exchange systems, paving the way for a rigorous, reproducible approach that will reduce industry development risk and facilitate EGS commercialization. R&D activities may include, but are not limited to, innovative drilling techniques, reservoir stimulation techniques, and well connectivity and flow-testing efforts. Each site will also require continuous monitoring of geophysical and geochemical signals.

Additionally, dynamic reservoir models will play an integral role in FORGE by allowing the site operator to synthesize, predict, and verify reservoir properties and performance. R&D activities will have open participation, via competitive solicitations to the broader scientific and engineering community.

As advancements in EGS are made over the course of FORGE’s operation, R&D priorities are likely to shift and change in response. As a result, FORGE will be a dynamic, flexible effort that can adjust to and accommodate the newest and most compelling challenges in the energy frontier!

Funding/Timeline

Each of the five selected projects is funded at $400K for Phase 1 (total initial DOE investment: $2M). The intent is to

  • get selected (a year from now) to proceed on to Phase 2—where DOE investment is supposed to be $29M over a couple years,
  • then move on to Phase 3—where one of the five projects selected for Phase 1 will advance to full development (about 5 years).

Funding for Phase 3 is unknown, but anticipated to be on the order of $25–$50M/yr.

Sandia’s Geothermal Technologies Office-Funded Projects

The approximate locations of Sandia's recently funded geothermal research sites superimposed on a DOE Geothermal Technologies Office map of the geothermal energy resource/potential for the continental US. These two sites were proposed because, in addition to being federal land, the requisite temperatures are met near the minimum required depth (i.e., less money spent drilling and more performing the research).

The approximate locations of Sandia’s recently funded geothermal research sites superimposed on a DOE Geothermal Technologies Office map of the geothermal energy resource/potential for the continental US. These two sites were proposed because, in addition to being federal land, the requisite temperatures are met near the minimum required depth (i.e., less money spent drilling and more performing the research).

The two Sandia-led projects selected to proceed with Phase 1 were:

Location: Coso, California

Key Partners: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, US Geological Survey, University of Nevada-Reno, GeothermEx/Schlumberger, US Navy, Coso Operating Company LLC, and Itasca Consulting Group

The proposed FORGE site at Coso, California, is located near the Coso geothermal production field within the US Navy’s Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake. Data from the proposed site potentially indicates the presence of high subsurface temperature with little fluid and permeable rock at depth. Sandia and its partnering national laboratory, government agencies, academic institutions, and industry stakeholders will complete the requisite modeling and site characterization needed to determine the suitability of the Coso site for a large-scale, economically sustainable EGS demonstration project.

The institutions and key personnel that comprise the Coso FORGE Team provide a robust mixture of geoscience and geoengineering capabilities, a strong and productive history in geothermal research and applications, and the capability and experience to manage projects with the complexity anticipated for FORGE. Sandia will be responsible for the overall coordination of site activities, will oversee contract administration, and will serve as a direct interface with DOE and the Science and Technology Analysis Team (STAT). Coso is an outstanding candidate location for FORGE; data demonstrates the existence of required temperatures, permeabilities, and lithologies at depths of 1.5–2.3 km.

The institutions that comprise the Coso FORGE Team bring a wealth of complementary experience to this project and are committed to and abundantly capable of executing the FORGE activity.

Location: Fallon, Nevada

Key Partners: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, US Geological Survey, University of Nevada-Reno, GeothermEx/Schlumberger, US Navy, Ormat Nevada Inc., and Itasca Consulting Group

The proposed FORGE site at Fallon, Nevada, is located on the US Navy’s Naval Air Station Fallon. Sandia and its partnering national laboratory, academic institutions, government agencies, and industry stakeholders propose the area as a potential FORGE site because previous analysis has revealed its suitability for research and development of an EGS reservoir. The team will develop additional scientific data including detailed analyses of rock samples, natural seismicity, surface and borehole characteristics, and other geological analyses. It will also generate a 3-D model and plans for potential development of the Fallon site for the FORGE EGS demonstration.

The institutions and key personnel that comprise the Fallon FORGE Team provide a robust mixture of geoscience and geoengineering capabilities, a strong and productive history in geothermal research and applications, and the capability and experience to manage projects with the complexity anticipated for FORGE. Sandia will be responsible for the overall coordination of site activities, will oversee contract administration, and will serve as a direct interface with DOE and the Science and Technology Analysis Team (STAT). Fallon is an outstanding candidate location for FORGE, with an abundance of existing data demonstrating the existence of suitable temperatures, permeabilities, and lithologies at depths of 1.5–3 km.

The institutions that comprise the Fallon FORGE Team bring a wealth of complementary experience to this project and are committed to and abundantly capable of executing the FORGE activity. The project also has the full support of the State of Nevada, as evidenced by a letter of support from Governor Sandoval.

The DOE-EERE Geothermal Technologies Office awarded the funds for the five Phase 1 projects selected.