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Collaborative Fund Is geothermal energy heating up?

The energy sector is undergoing a massive shift, and decarbonisation is on the minds of many. In this article, the Collaborative Fund explores two exciting companies making waves in geothermal energy. Although Dandelion and Quaise are not yet public, these provide a fine example of some of the exciting energy opportunities coming down the pipe.

The decarbonization of our energy sector is inevitable. But the quickest path to this zero-carbon future isn’t obvious.

Which storage technology will win out? To what extent are dispatchable energy sources like nuclear and geothermal necessary to supplement wind and solar?

Despite the rapid drop in renewable energy prices, it’s hard to imagine a world where we hit our carbon targets with wind and solar alone. The limitations to consistent generation and distribution of energy from renewables make a strong case for the place of novel storage and generation technologies in our energy mix.

As big believers in the portfolio approach to energy generation, we’ve been excited about the potential of geothermal for as long as we’ve been investing in climate.

Our first climate-related investment came in early 2017, when we backed a Google X spinout called Dandelion. We wrote about that investment here and have continued to support the business as it has scaled in New York and Connecticut. Through our work with Kathy and the Dandelion team, we’ve learned more about geothermal energy and its potential.

Geothermal is both abundant and consistent. With underground resources flowing 24/7 and available anywhere on earth between depths of 10 and 20km, the biggest bottleneck to expanding production potential is the cost of drilling. Using today’s technologies, prime geothermal conditions are limited to less than 10% of the planet and geothermal power accounts for less than 0.5% of global energy generation today.

David Roberts at Vox does a great job in laying out how geothermal is an engineering problem and the value that would be created if we solved it:

“The heat stored in the Earth’s crust, known as geothermal energy, is carbon-free and effectively inexhaustible. There’s enough of it to run all of civilization for generations, if it could be cost-effectively tapped.”

As you go deeper into the earth – closer to resources of this scale – the engineering difficulty increases. For a project to succeed, it needs a scalable approach to lowering drilling costs, and a thorough understanding of how to apply oil and gas practices to a novel field — two things the Quaise team excels at.

A geothermal energy startup born from research at the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center, Quaise is pioneering a hybrid drilling system which, if successful, will make accessing geothermal energy a more cost-effective and competitive energy source.

Co-founder and CEO Carlos Araque led product development at Schlumberger for nearly 15 years before joining as technical director at The Engine, where he first connected with Quaise’s scientific co-founder Paul Woskov. Paul’s work at MIT pioneered the technique of using electromagnetic waves to bore holes through rock.

Recognizing the potential of this platform to solve the geothermal challenge, Carlos and Paul began collaborating in 2018. Since then, they’ve brought together an interdisciplinary team of exceptional technologists and industry experts, building upon our ability to extract underground resources, to create a zero-carbon energy company capable of achieving unprecedented scale.

We are thrilled to announce our investment in the business’ seed round, alongside The Engine, earlier this year. We continue to be impressed by their execution and rigorous approach to realizing an awesome ambition, and are grateful to join the Quaise team on their journey to reach the “sun beneath our feet.”


This article was originally written by Craig Shapiro and Lily Bernicker and published by the Collaborative Fund, here.

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