Air Force Pursues Geothermal Energy Prototype Facilities

geothermal prototype facility air force department of defense

(Courtesy, Bureau of Land Management, New Mexico)

by | Oct 18, 2023

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The Department of the Air Force is looking to geothermal energy as part of its strategy to shore up energy resilience and defense infrastructure.

The Air Force signed agreements for geothermal energy prototype facilities at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, and Joint Base San Antonio, Texas. When operational, the facilities will “deliver continuous clean energy for direct consumption at the installations,” the department said. 

Geothermal energy is of interest to the Department of Energy, and the technology taps into heat produced naturally within the Earth in order to provide low-carbon heating and cooling to businesses and residential areas. Earlier this year, the DOE announced a new initiative to support community-led geothermal solutions across the country, with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) assisting four of the 11 selected communities in Colorado, Vermont, and Alaska, to install geothermal technologies.

Increasing Energy Resilience

The Air Force sees geothermal as an opportunity to provide clean, reliable baseload energy, “even in the face of grid outages.”

“We are in an era of strategic competition with China, which means that our installations are no longer a sanctuary from the full spectrum of threats,” said Dr. Ravi Chaudhary, assistant secretary of the Air Force for energy, installations, and environment. “We need to ruggedize our installations with redundant energy systems and make use of clean energy sources that reduce our fuel demands. Geothermal sources strengthen our energy grids and give us the ability to isolate threats before they impact our operations. This type of capability will translate into victory in a high-end fight.”

The project is a collaboration between the Air Force Civil Engineer Center, a primary subordinate unit of the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center in San Antonio, Texas, and the Defense Innovation Unit in Mountain View, California. The Air Force has agreements with Zanskar Geothermal & Minerals at Mountain Home AFB and Eavor at Joint Base San Antonio.

The prototype program development incorporates two geothermal technologies that harness the natural heat of the Earth. The program development will be administered by the AFCEC’s Air Force Office of Energy Assurance at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida.

“Our pursuit of energy resilience in the Air Force is unyielding, and this is just the beginning. Leveraging these cutting-edge technologies will enhance operations and readiness and provide quality environments for our on- and off-base communities,” said AF OEA Director Kirk Phillips. “When we embrace innovation and a forward-thinking mindset, we set the standard for a sustainable future that safeguards both our mission and the environment.”

Defense Department Using Advanced Geothermal Technologies

The initiative is part of the Defense Department’s first foray into using AI-guided exploration and use of advanced and enhanced geothermal technologies to produce geothermal power for installation energy resilience, the Air Force said.

The Department will rely on results of the project to determine the potential for advanced geothermal technology “to extract thermal energy through conduction within a closed-loop system, or for an Enhanced Geothermal System to establish man-made subsurface fluid pathways in the absence of conventional geothermal resources.” The prototype facilities will be tested, with full feasibility studies taking up to two years. The Air Force plans targeted commercial operations starting in three to five years.

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