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Home : News : News
NEWS | Sept. 28, 2023

Air Force pioneering innovative geothermal energy solutions

By Greg Nash Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center Public Affairs

Seeking to fortify defense infrastructure, the Department of the Air Force has signed agreements for groundbreaking geothermal energy prototype facilities at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, and Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. When operational, the new facilities will deliver continuous clean energy for direct consumption at the installations.

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, fast-tracked the project.

The agreements with Zanskar Geothermal & Minerals, Inc. at Mountain Home Air Force Base and Eavor Inc. at Joint Base San Antonio are significant milestones toward achieving Air Force energy resilience goals. The geothermal prototypes hold the potential to furnish a seamless supply of clean, reliable baseload energy, even in the face of grid outages.

For Dr. Ravi Chaudhary, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Energy, Installations, and Environment, the cutting-edge geothermal technology is a force multiplier.

“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,” Chaudhary said. “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.”

AFCEC’s Air Force Office of Energy Assurance at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, will administer the prototype program development, which incorporates two geothermal technologies to harness the earth’s natural heat.

The results of the project will 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.

“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.”

Subsurface work to determine geothermal resources at both locations will begin this year. Full feasibility studies and testing of the prototype facilities can take up to two years, with targeted commercial operations starting in three to five years.

“We can’t afford to move at the speed of government anymore. We must be bold and modernize at the speed of the threat,” Chaudhary said. “Innovations like this will be the margin of victory in future conflicts and also propel our nation to compete and win in the future energy economy.”

The Air Force initiative is part of the Defense Department’s first foray into using artificial intelligence-guided exploration and the use of Advanced and Enhanced geothermal technologies to produce geothermal power for installation energy resilience. Mountain Home Air Force Base and Joint Base San Antonio stand to gain sufficient on-site generation capacity to meet their entire load demands, reinforcing their strategic standing and bolstering their mission readiness. The use of these technologies has the potential to expand beyond Air Force and Department of Defense installations to benefit communities across the United States.