🌟Profound People Series: Episode Two –  Trenton Cladouhos🌟 

“Insights from Geothermal Superheroes”

🔗  View Interview here

We are thrilled to present the second episode of our Profound People series, where we dive into the minds and motivations of industry leaders. This episode features an exclusive interview with Dr. Trenton Cladouhos, Vice President of Geothermal Resource Development at Quaise Energy.

With an impressive career spanning over 35 years in applied geosciences, Trenton now leads the charge at Quaise Energy, where he oversees the development and testing of groundbreaking technologies aimed at creating the world’s first superhot rock Engineered Geothermal System (EGS). His work is pivotal in shaping a future where geothermal energy could replace fossil fuels.

Throughout his career, Trenton has been at the forefront of geothermal projects worldwide, specializing in EGS, geothermal exploration, drilling, and well field operations. His insights and experiences are invaluable to anyone interested in the sustainable energy landscape.

🎧 Tune in to hear Dr. Cladouhos discuss his journey, the challenges of tapping into the Earth’s heat, and the potential of geothermal energy to revolutionize how we power our world. Tune in, gain invaluable insights, and witness the fusion of geoscience and innovation. Subscribe to our channel for more! 

🤝 We’re eager to hear from you – share your thoughts, connect with us, and nominate your favorite Geothermal Profound People. Together, let’s celebrate and amplify the voices that are propelling us towards viable geothermal power.

Profound People Video Series

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Transcript Summary: 7 minute read

Bruce: Hi, I’m Bruce Kohrn, with TLS Geothermics,  I’m here at the Stanford Geothermal Workshop with Trenton. We’re partway through the Stanford Geothermal workshop and we’re going to have a conversation today about the past, present, and future of geothermal, reflecting on Trenton’s experience. Trenton, could you introduce yourself?

Trenton: Yeah, my name is Trenton Cladouhos. I’m a geologist, and I actually went to school here at Stanford, graduating in 1988. It’s great to be back here at Stanford. I’ve been attending this conference since 2008; this is the 49th Stanford Geothermal Workshop.

I grew up in Montana, hiking and climbing in Glacier Park, and I always wanted to understand why the mountains were there. After Stanford, I went to Cornell University and studied structural geology in the Andes. I wasn’t working in geothermal initially; I was working at an internet startup in Seattle in 2008. I heard about Alter Rock Energy looking for a structural geologist. They were writing a proposal to work at the Geysers geothermal field north of here in Napa Valley. I helped them write a proposal for an enhanced geothermal system demonstration project in the southern Geysers, which got funded, and then they hired me. I was working with Susan Petty, a well-known pioneer in geothermal. We first worked in the Geysers, and then in 2010, we wrote a proposal to work at Newberry volcano near Bend, Oregon, and worked on that project for about five years doing another EGS demonstration project. That was during the first EGS boom in geothermal – a lot of money coming in, a lot of interest. It was an exciting time. After a bit of a lull, it feels like that excitement is back.

Bruce: Can you share more about your experiences and how the field has evolved since you started?

Trenton: During that lull, I went to a conventional geothermal company, Cyrq Energy, and saw the geothermal world from the conventional side. There are a lot of really interesting problems to work on in conventional geothermal projects. A year ago, I left Cyrq to get back in because I could see a new wave of investment coming through. There’s new funding for what I’m most passionate about, which is super hot rock EGS. Just today, we were notified that the project we proposed in June has been funded by the DOE. It’s a three- or four-year project that we’re going to start on in just a few months.

Geothermal has been a relatively small player, so there’s a lot of room for growth. Every aspect of geothermal has room to grow and provide value. There are direct-use projects where we just use the hot water directly to heat buildings, there’s conventional geothermal like I worked on at Circ Energy for generating power from naturally convecting systems, and there’s EGS like Fervo is doing. My claim has been that super hot EGS is really the only way to get the cost for geothermal down because if you’re producing fluids over 375 degrees Celsius, individual wells can have 20 to 30 megawatts per well. One geothermal well can produce as much as ten windmills in just one small footprint. It’s a real chance to change the capabilities of geothermal.

Bruce: That’s a lot of progress. It’s interesting to hear how much the field has evolved and the new technologies that are coming into play.

Trenton: I just joined Quaise Energy, and their technology is called millimeter wave drilling. It uses millimeter waves—you use a gyrotron to create this energy, send it down a waveguide to melt rock, and then that rock becomes dust, and you blow it out of the hole. The idea is you can drill to 10 or even 20 kilometers economically. That technology is still under development. My first task at Quaise is to go to places where we don’t need to use millimeter wave drilling, so that we can use conventional drilling and still hit these supercritical temperatures. Newberry volcano is one of those places. We can just drill to 4 kilometers and hit 400 degrees Celsius and figure out how to connect two wells in an EGS system to produce power.

Bruce: How are people reacting to the new possibilities in geothermal?

Trenton: Geothermal has been around for over 100 years with the first geothermal plant in Italy. We have been generating power at the Geysers for over 50 years. However, it’s kind of been a stealth power generation source; not everyone even knows about it. In fact, when I was here at Stanford, I didn’t know there was a geothermal power field just north of here. There’s a lot more public awareness now, from geothermal heat pumps to direct use to EGS. This is across the population, but also, the federal government, the DOE, is supporting geothermal as well as it ever has. So there’s public support, government support, and here at this conference, you’re starting to see companies like Chevron come in. Major oil companies and service companies are now starting to pay attention, which is great because we need their tools, we need to collaborate with them, we need to learn from them. Also, I’m getting calls now from utilities basically asking, “Can we do geothermal in our area? Can you do a resource assessment?” That’s something new; 10 years ago, that didn’t even pop into people’s heads—utility managers, resource managers—they didn’t even think about geothermal. But now, through increased awareness, they’re at least asking that question.

Bruce: That’s really encouraging to hear. It sounds like there’s a new wave of interest and potential growth areas.

Trenton: Absolutely. We’ve also got a call from Central Washington, an area where hydroelectric dams have provided all the power in the past. But they’re starting to realize they need to diversify, and so they’re asking about geothermal resources in their service area. That never would have happened a few years ago. Many people didn’t know anything about geothermal, but now through the successes of some of the companies in the industry and the efforts by the US government, the DOE, there’s just a general awareness that’s emerging. That’s probably one of the new things. Solar and wind are very visible, and people know those are occurring, and I think now, utilities and everyone are starting to realize we can’t decarbonize just with solar and wind. Now there’s becoming this awareness that we need other solutions, and geothermal fills that niche perfectly in many ways because it can both store energy and be dispatchable to follow the load when solar and wind can’t.

Bruce: It’s great to hear there’s such a positive outlook and significant potential for geothermal energy. Let’s wrap this up. Trenton, thank you very much for your time today. It’s been enlightening to learn more about where geothermal has been, where it is now, and where it’s going because it seems like there’s an upward trend and it’s pretty exciting.

Trenton: Very much so, Bruce. Thank you for having me. It’s a very exciting time for geothermal.

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