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Renewable Energy

UMass grant aids geothermal power study

AMHERST - When it comes to alternative energy, certain sources seem to get all the attention: wind, solar, biomass and hydro.

But geologists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst believe there's considerable potential for developing another source of energy here in the commonwealth: geothermal power.

Now, with a $441,062 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy in hand, researchers have begun an extensive survey of granite layers in Massachusetts and Connecticut that could contain enough heat to generate clean energy - for both electricity and heat - for schools, hospitals, municipal buildings and neighborhoods. It's the first such comprehensive survey to be conducted in the Northeast.

Steve Mabee, state geologist for Massachusetts and a former geology instructor at UMass and Amherst College, said most attention in the field has focused on areas, such as Iceland, that have extensive geothermal activity - volcanoes, hot springs and other resources - near the surface. But he notes that many kinds of granite here in New England are full of naturally occurring radioactive elements that also produce significant heat, a resource called "enhanced geothermal."

"It's something that's easily measured, and that's what this survey is intended to do," said Mabee. "We'll be preparing an extensive model of the granitic rock and its heat potential, and we'll compare that to what we find to get a sense of where the best rocks are."

Mabee is working with UMass geologist and geosciences professor R. Michael Rhodes and Connecticut state geologist Margaret Thomas on the three-year project. The work is funded by the DOE's Renewable Energy Laboratory, though the work is part of a larger effort overseen by the American Association of State Geologists.

(Excerpt from Daily Hampshire Gazette. 12/2/10)

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