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Fighting for Lava

By Dennis Shasha

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 62 No. 4, Page 144

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The vast underground lava fields in the western U.S. feature a photogenic geyser called Old Faithful. Eruptions send approximately 15,000 liters of steaming water 50 meters into the air approximately every hour. Unfortunately, what is underground is not nearly as appealing. If the lava fields erupted in a major way, they could cause ferocious firestorms that would destroy a large portion of the western U.S. and Canada and substantially cool the planet.

Now imagine a pair of tunnel-boring energy-extraction companies are competing to cool the lava, make some money, and provide carbon-free energy besides. The idea is to tunnel from a power plant outside the lava fields to near the lava, but not too close, to avoid accidental eruptions. A pipeline could in theory then take cool water from the power plant to the end of the tunnel where the water would be heated into steam and the steam would power the turbines of the power plant. The whole system could be designed to recycle the steam back into water in a closed loop.


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