Tapping the largest energy source on the planet

Planet A Ventures
6 min readDec 7, 2022

What an economy within planetary boundaries will look like remains to be seen, but what is already clear is that it needs a lot more electrical power. Using ultra-deep geothermal energy might be a silver bullet to mass-scaling base-load renewable energy today, not only in 20 years. It is hard to imagine a more relevant solution. That is why we invested in GA Drilling.

The question of secure and sustainable energy has never been more important. How do we plug in is one of the key questions that decide whether we are able to build a sustainable economy. However, the problem we are facing is threefold:

1. In the short term, we seek to urgently reduce Europe’s dependency on fossil fuels, especially oil, from Russia. The nexus between European security and local access to sufficient resources of green, renewable energy has become evident.

2. In the medium term, we need to phase out coal and gas and replace them with renewable energy to get on the 1,5-degree-path.

3. In the long term we need a lot more renewable energy to power a transforming economy. Just think of the massive amounts of electrical power that are needed to produce green hydrogen and synthetic fuels which are necessary to transform hard-to-abate industries like steel, shipping or aviation. In other words: building an economy that works within the planetary boundaries is first and foremost a question of renewable energy being cheap, available and steady.

An overlooked opportunity deep below us

One answer that is often overlooked sits deep below us, ultra-deep, supercritical, geothermal energy. By providing energy on a continuous basis it can reduce the necessity to build large, expensive and resource-intensive energy storage capacities for more volatile renewables. This makes it an ideal substitute for conventional fossil-based heat and power supply in many applications.

The Earth’s crust contains a consistent layer of hot rock, not economically accessible with today’s conventional drilling applications. At a depth of 10km there is 50.000x more energy than all known fossil fuel reserves. Ultra-deep geothermal is a large-scale baseload solution to replace fossil fuels that is available anywhere, anytime while making use of the technology, know-how, and highly skilled workforce of the conventional drilling industry. In terms of pricing, it could be highly competitive at potentially $20–35 per megawatt-hour (MWh).

Moreover, deep geothermal doesn’t rely on rare-earth minerals — in fact, it can be a sustainable source of lithium — thus avoiding the risk of creating new global dependencies.

Deep geothermal uses less than 1% of the land and materials of other renewables, making it the only option for a sustainable clean energy transition. And contrary to public opinion, it does not pose any uncontrollable risks to the environment, according to a study of the German Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR) that analyzed 56 studies and simulations from all over Europe.

Why isn’t everyone talking about it?

Engineering hurdles have prevented a vast move into ultra-deep geothermal energy. Most geothermal energy can be harvested at depths of 5 km or more. Hard rock (granite) is usually reached at around 3 km of depth, and after this point costs rise exponentially due to highly decreased durability of contact drill heads. In a process known as “tripping” drills need to be pulled up one-by-one to replace drill heads — this can take a crew 32 hours to complete at a depth of just 3 km. The deeper the hole and the harder the rock, the more tedious and costly tripping becomes.

In addition to hard rocks, these depths contain extremely high temperatures and pressure levels (more than 370 degrees C and 220 bars of pressure). These conditions create what is known as super critical water, a fourth physical state of water with 10x enthalpy, meaning the amount of heat that water can hold. Geothermal wells at a temperature of ~400 degrees C produce 10 times more energy than those at 200 degrees C.

In order to exploit ultra-deep geothermal energy, the cost of drilling must be slashed significantly. Drilling of geothermal wells can make up 30–50% of the total project costs. Traditional drilling technology has seen a significant downward sloping cost over the past decades, however, it has been optimised for sediments rather than hard rock, simply because there are basically no fossil fuels to be found in hard rock.

In order to exploit ultra-deep geothermal energy, the cost of drilling must be slashed significantly. Drilling of geothermal wells can make up 30–50% of the total project costs. Traditional drilling technology has seen a significant downward sloping cost over the past decades, however, it has been optimised for sediments rather than hard rock, simply because there are basically no fossil fuels to be found in hard rock.

Deeper and cheaper

The good news: a handful of startups are developing technologies that will enable linear drilling costs to any depth. There are several novel drilling approaches that lead to faster drilling and reducing drilling costs for geothermal projects, allowing the energy price to remain competitive even at a deep depth. These innovations open up the potential to make geothermal energy accessible everywhere.

One of the most promising is GA Drilling. The team, based in Bratislava, Slovakia has come up with the patented Plasmabit®, a new type of contactless drill that destroys hard rock using high-powered plasma pulses. Compared to legacy mechanical drilling, this contactless technology is key, as it overcomes the “tripping” challenge.

Their innovative technology is now able to exploit ultra-deep geothermal energy and could give us access to a permanent supply of renewable heating, cooling and power, provided anywhere, as well as providing a future-proof transition for skilled oil and gas workers, as existing infrastructure can be easily used. The rapid rate of penetration of their plasma drill bit in hard rock environment enables linear drilling costs to any depth. Costs of drilling per meter are lower by an order of magnitude.

Impact at scale

As part of our due diligence, we conducted a detailed life cycle assessment that evaluates different geothermal power plant types and accounts for a vast range of real-world conditions. Our LCA has revealed that geothermal energy can substantially reduce GHG emissions in comparison with fossil-based generation.

The net reduction exceeds 430g CO2-eq. per kWh, if geothermal replaces natural gas, and 1kg CO2-eq. per kWh if hard coal, lignite or oil are displaced. Geothermal electricity reduces GHG emissions by 99% compared to the conventional electricity supply it displaces. If non-condensable gasses are included, the average reduction of GHG emissions amounts to 88%.

We are joined in this 12m US-$ funding round by Anglo American, one of the most experienced operators of hybrid drilling rigs, as well as existing investors such as Extantia Capital.

The GAD engineering team around founder and CEO Igor Kocis is extremely experienced, they have developed a complete drilling system over the last decade, plan to drill their first wells within the next 18 months and have developed all necessary partnerships in order to do so. We are truly excited to be backing such a passionate, seasoned team and to be able to play a role in developing this game-changing deep tech innovation (pun intended).

Shoutout to Extantia and their terrific work on this subject.

Parts of this article were also published by Planet A and Cleantech for Europe here.

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Planet A Ventures

We support founders tackling the world's largest environmental problems.