Deep geothermal energy

  Man smiles Copyright: © Institute for Applied Geophysics and Geothermal Energy

Geology as the science of the composition and structure of the earth's crust is always hampered by a specific problem: You can't see inside the earth. Fortunately, research is now using a variety of analog and digital tools to scout out the treasures of the ground. "Our domestic subsurface is an important resource in making the energy and heat transition in Germany succeed," said Professor Florian Wellmann, who holds the RWTH Chair of Applied Geophysics 1 and has also recently become head of the Competence Center "Exploration and Reservoir Simulation" at Fraunhofer IEG. "Deep geothermal energy in particular offers a great opportunity to reliably supply industry and district heating networks with local, sustainable and affordable heat." Deep geothermal energy is the extraction of hot thermal water and the injection of its heat into above-ground networks and processes, such as for district heating in cities or production in industrial companies. The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft and the Helmholtz Association estimate that this could provide around 25 percent of Germany's heating needs.

What is needed to exploit such resources is a precise analysis of the ground conditions. "A tried and tested, but very costly means is drilling," says Wellmann. "However, we also gain important insights through seismics." For example, when seismic waves generated by special vehicles are sent into the depths and later picked up again by geophones at the surface - similar to a ship's echo sounder. "We can analyze all this data using statistical methods from the field of artificial intelligence." But that information would only be worth half as much if human experts couldn't use their experience to piece it together into a proper picture. "You can compare our work to that of a doctor trying to diagnose a disease in the human body, using imaging methods such as ultrasound or MRI," Wellmann says. "There, too, experience is just as important as the data gathered."

The chair's team is currently involved in a project to investigate the geothermal potential of the Aachen region. "Especially in view of the coal phase-out, this could be a topic that concerns us all," says Wellmann.