Harnessing the Volcano

Here’s an energy source you probably haven’t thought about: volcanoes. “Ormat Technologies (ORA) has tapped into the Pacaya volcano in Guatemala,” reports Stockerblog (citing a Reuters article). “The country’s goal is to have 60 percent of its energy generated from volcanoes, along with hydro power. Guatemala isn’t the only country tapping into this source of power. There are plenty of other Central American countries jumping on the bandwagon, including Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Nicaragua.” Volcanoes may also be useful on the global-warming front too. [%comments]

Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team

Any heat source can be harnessed as a thermodynamic engine. The problem with volcanoes is their instability, toxic gas, heat anc chemical corrosiveness, earthquakes, difficult terrrain, and far location from cities.

Building a city close to a volcano can be deadly as Pompei demonstrated. A volcano can be a lousy neighbor.

And while capital mmg may be happy to finance alternative power, building a $1 billion volcao powered plant on top of a volcano, is really a risky capital venture--a Casino project in Las Vegas is less risky.

Geothermal power far from the Caldera is more palatable.


Makes sense to me. I've sometimes wondered why Hawai'i doesn't run on geothermal power, instead of importing expensive fossil fuels.


This may be a case of out of the frying pan, into the fire. Dams disrupt species (like salmon) migration, change the chemical balance of rivers and lowers the dissolved oxygen of the water. We do not know the implications of truly large-scale use.

And spewing sulfur into the air? Do we really want to increase acid rain and harm people living nearby? Volcanic energy is still finite and can damage the resources.

Using up our water resources is a real danger. Producing toxins is another one. We need a better plan. Wind and solar, plus conservation and a good rail system / bike paths seem like better choices.


Eric M. Jones

There is a difference between geothermal energy and volcanoes. Geothermal energy is much longer lasting and more practical for generating power. Those countries that have tapped geothermal energy have struggled long and hard to make it work. Volcanoes? Good luck.

Years ago a company tried to make lava building blocks where a flow of lava was directed into molds. But cost is everything in engineering and they couldn't make it work.

David Sucher

Mr. Jones.
Please take a look at Iceland.
It has been extremely successful with geothermal power.


Re #4: "Those countries that have tapped geothermal energy have struggled long and hard to make it work."

Strange, 'cause there's a geothermal plant just up the road from me that's been quietly cranking out 100 MW or so for the last couple of decades.


Big Island runs a geothermal plant less than 20 miles from the active caldera on Hawaii. They harness 40% of their electrical needs for the entire island from 6 production wells. They have been in production since 1999....started by an Israeli company. They are expanding, but need more functioning wells to generate more power...which takes licensing. The government in Hawaii is tight on their drilling licenses. Something to do with upsetting Pele I guess.


May be it would be possible after one day we can control the volcano!

Panem et Circanses

A comic book had this in the 1960s! A huge cap over an active volcano. The book was from DC, knowing me probably something with Superman.

Eric M. Jones

@5, 6:

Yes, and they struggled long and hard to make it work. Jeeeze.

ps: Occasionally somebody decides to tap lightning as power source. Power volcanoes are heading in the lightning direction.

By the way...here's a lightning-power volcano at work:
(Google) lightning volcano .



somewhat risky, i think. These places with volcanos also are earthquake prone. Switzerland looked into doing geothermal once, but halted a new plant because the number of temblors dramatically increased. Same thing happened with a plant that was being built near the San Andreas fault; I think the plans on that one went ahead. We'll find out whether there are problems when CA slides into the ocean, or the Mississippi runs backwards again, I guess.


Re #10: "@5, 6:

Yes, and they struggled long and hard to make it work. Jeeeze."

Maybe so, just as e.g. the Wright Brothers struggled long & hard to get their plane off the ground. But these days, if you want to fly somewhere, you just buy a ticket, and if you want a geothermal plant (and have the resource), you just call Ormat or one of the other companies that build them. Jeeeze yourself :-)

Eric M. Jones

@12 ...(>$%^&$@&*&^...!)

My point was that the engineering work on harnessing geothermal energy from volcanoes has not been done.

The geothermal peeps struggled for decades to make it work. Steam from geothermal areas is often poisonous and corrosive and ate the equipment. Hot spots often don't stay hot. There are dry spots and wet spots and faults. . Sometimes (In CA) they pump treated municipal sewage water to get good steam to the top. There are only a limited number of places where the energy reserve is shallow and the heat flow is high (...cheap).

BTW a new survey says there is a bonanza of geothermal energy in WVA and other Appalachian Mountain areas.

Don't get me wrong...I'm super in favor of geothermal energy power plants. But volcanoes are a different beast, and I'd bet against the plan to use them.