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AAPG Pacific Section and Rocky Mountain Section Joint Meeting

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The Great Basin Center for Geothermal Energy: Past, present and future


The Great Basin Center for Geothermal Energy (GBCGE) was established at the University of Nevada, Reno in 2000, to work in partnership with the geothermal industry to increase the uptake and development of geothermal resources in the western United States. Mechanisms to achieve this include conducting innovative research, pursing collaborative projects with industry, student projects, outreach activities and training. Research conducted at the GBCGE aims to better understand the geothermal resource potential of Nevada and the broader Great Basin, by investigating geological factors that control where geothermal resources are located in the region, and by developing new approaches for geothermal exploration to increase our discovery of ‘blind’ geothermal systems. In addition, we seek to understand the characteristics of geothermal reservoirs in terms of their temperature, volumes of fluid, permeability, fluid geochemistry, and fluid flow pathways, which are important factors for optimizing the development and management of geothermal resources. Notable achievements since the establishment of the GBCGE include:

  • - The compilation and release of geothermal datasets for the Great Basin (such as the geochemical groundwater database, geothermal favorability maps, and the Great Basin Geothermal GIS);
  • - development of new methods to explore for blind geothermal systems (e.g. shallow temperature surveys, remote sensing to map geothermal alteration minerals, structural favorability mapping, mercury soil gas studies);
  • - establishment of the National Geothermal Academy (NGA), to run annual educational courses to train the next generation of geothermal scientists and engineers (over 130 students have participated in the program to date), and
  • - publication of over 50 peer reviewed articles and presentation of over 200 conference papers.
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    Future activities within the Center will include the ongoing release of data and products useful for geothermal explorers and resource operators, focused research to address the key challenges facing the geothermal industry in the Great Basin, community outreach, and training through the NGA. Anticipated future research directions include a focus on reservoir characterization and modeling, to better understand the dynamics of geothermal reservoirs in the Great Basin. In addition, the Center is currently involved in the US Department of Energy's FORGE (Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy) initiative that aims to develop a site for operation and testing of Engineered Geothermal System technologies. In Phase 1 of FORGE, the Center has been involved in two of the five candidate sites: West Flank of Coso (California) and Fallon (Nevada). Both projects are being led by Sandia National Laboratories. Phase 1 is to be completed in June 2016, and the sites that will continue into Phase 2 of FORGE will be selected and announced in the following months.