Feb 8, 2022 - Economy

Geothermal startup nabs $40M for deep drilling push

Illustration of the Earth with a cutaway revealing a quarter.

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Quaise Energy, a company with experimental tech to access hugely energy-dense geothermal resources 6 to 12 miles below Earth's surface, this morning announced $40 million in Series A funding.

Driving the news: Safar Partners, Prelude Ventures, Fine Structure Ventures, The Engine and others are backing the Cambridge, Massachusetts startup, which spun out of MIT in 2018.

  • It brings total funding to $63 million to date, including a $5 million Energy Department grant.

Why it matters: Quaise is among the startups looking to scale geothermal by tapping hard-to-access, deeper and hotter resources with emerging drilling and conduction technologies.

The big picture: Geothermal is an old energy source that remains niche compared to the immense potential.

  • Companies with differing methods — and degrees of difficulty — have been attracting investor cash in recent years. Startups raised almost $452 million in venture funding from 2017 to 2021, per PitchBook.
  • Fervo Energy, a company with so-called enhanced geothermal tech, raised $28 million in Series B funding last year.
  • Eavor raised $40 million last year from backers including VC arms of BP and Chevron for developing its "closed loop" system.

Zoom in: Quaise targets "supercritical" geothermal resources at massive depths and temperatures.

  • Quaise is experimenting with a "millimeter wave" drilling system to tap high-energy resources at temperatures in the 500° C range.
  • "Our technology allows us to access energy anywhere in the world, at a scale far greater than wind and solar, enabling future generations to thrive in a world powered with abundant clean energy," CEO Carlos Araque said in a statement.

Yes, but: The tech and engineering challenges are quite significant. This helpful Vox explainer on the geothermal taxonomy calls supercritical the "far horizon" of next-wave concepts.

  • A 2019 DOE report on geothermal says accessing supercritical resources demands "entirely new classes" of drilling, processes and more to handle "extreme temperature, pressure, and chemical conditions."

What's next: Quaise, working with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, plans to move from indoor drilling to in-ground field under lab conditions allowing expansion to depths around 10 meters this year, Araque told Axios via email.

  • The new funding will help enable Quaise to advance to test larger-scale field drilling by 2024 at depths from 100 up to 1,000 meters and expand their team, said Araque, who spent 15 years with the oilfield services heavyweight Schlumberger.
  • They're working with the big oilfield services company Nabors, which is also an investor through its venture arm.

The intrigue: Quaise says widely distributed supercritical resources would enable coal- and gas-fired power infrastructure to be powered with geothermal instead.

  • Araque said Quaise has had visits to an undisclosed New York State power plant and has identified 100+ U.S. plants as candidates.

Go deeper: Federal officials open push for 24/7 clean power

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