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A Quiet Breakthrough in Geothermal Energy

The Pohutu Geyser in Te Puia,  Rotorua, New Zealand
The Pohutu Geyser in Te Puia, Rotorua, New ZealandPhotograph by Marco Simoni

Not a lot of startups tackle the field of geothermal power, which entails tapping into hot rocks deep in the earth to produce energy and electricity. That’s because it can be an expensive proposition, and can require extensive permits and environmental reports. But a rare startup called AltaRock Energy has recently delivered a promising breakthrough that it says can lead to the commercialization of its next-generation geothermal technology.

AltaRock Energy—which has backing from venture capitalists, as well as Google and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s investment firm—has been working on enhanced (sometimes called engineered) geothermal tech. This technology drills wells deep into the ground, injects them with cold water to fracture the hot rocks, and creates a geothermal source of power where none was naturally occurring. Traditional geothermal systems, in contrast, tap into naturally occurring geothermal reservoirs (you know, the kind you see on the side of the road in Yellowstone National Park).