The tunnel under a volcano in Iceland

Iceland is known for its abundance of geysers and volcanoes. It has successful geothermal energy programs. But the plan they have now is impressive. The tunnel under a volcano in Iceland will harness the energy of a magma chamber. How will it be done?

It would be the first time that humans take advantage of magma, which is the molten rock liquid that flows under the Earth's crust. In 2026, the Icelandic Krafla Magma Testbed (KMT) project will drill into a volcano. It will harness its superhot vapors and generate geothermal energy on a scale never seen before.

The tunnel under a volcano in Iceland will be the first of its kind.
The tunnel under a volcano in Iceland will be the first of its kind.

Geothermal energy

At the beginning of the century it was drilled near one of the magmatic chambers of the Krafla volcanic caldera. The aim was to zoom in on the camera to explore geothermal energy options. The overwhelming heat (450°C) destroyed the well.

Now the objective is to know the behavior of magma underground. The team hopes to tap into a nearly unlimited source of clean energy. Iceland already uses geothermal energy to heat at least 90% of its homes and generate 70% of its total energy. Current methods access colder geothermal sources, which limits their efficiency.

Geothermal energy is relatively cold compared to the steam from a fossil fuel power plant. It is equivalent to about 250 °C and 450 °C respectively. «It is quite ineffective at those low temperatures. We want to develop superhot geothermal energy,” says John Eichelberger. He is a volcanologist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

In the magma chamber temperatures reach 1,300 °C. It would allow water to be obtained in a supercritical state, an intermediate state between liquid and vapor at very high pressures. It would multiply the power generated by 10 compared to conventional geothermal plants.

It can provide infinite energy.
It can provide infinite energy.

Endless opportunities

The tunnel under a volcano in Iceland will provide new information about how continental crust forms. It would help experts predict when similar volcanoes will erupt.

Drilling of a second well is expected to begin in 2028. The aim is to take advantage of the ultra-hot water stored at very high pressures to power turbines. «The opportunities are endless. The only thing we have to do is learn to tame this monster,” explains Hjalti Páll Ingólfsson, one of the project participants.

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