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TCU geology professor awarded $500,000 grant toward research

TCU becomes hub for geothermal research

Professor of geology John Holbrook sits in the Sid W. Richardson building, studying sediment and rock samples on Monday, Aug. 27, 2012. Holbrook recently won a $500,000 grant to research sustainable geothermal energy from sedimentary basins. Photo by Ola Bodurka.

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Dr. John Holbrook, a TCU professor of geology, energy and the environment received a grant worth close to $500,000 from the National Science Foundation for the research of geothermal energy. 

Holbrook said the grant will make TCU a hub for energy research in the United States, and that it allows for scientists researching geothermal energy to congregate in Fort Worth to overcome research hurdles in the field.

The grant was sent in two parts: The initial grant was roughly $150,000, and the second part totaled $343,322, according to the TCU Office of Sponsored Programs.

The purpose of the grant was to build research communities and focus on basic research, Holbrook said. The communities will concentrate on making geothermal energy more practical for industry.

The Geothermal Energy Association defines geothermal energy as “heat from the earth,” and is considered a “renewable resource because the heat emanating from the interior of the Earth is essentially limitless.”

Holbrook, an active member of the National Science Foundation, said the process was started when he contacted the foundation to discuss his ideas regarding sustainability. Along with representatives from the NSF, Holbrook decided there was a need for a leader in the field of geothermal research.

Calls to the National Science Foundation seeking comment were not immediately returned.

Researchers on the committee will focus on researching energy from sedimentary basins, Holbrook said. The group is researching how to effectively convert water, naturally heated by the earth’s core, into energy. 

As a result, the research community will examine effective ways to drill between three to six kilometers into the earth’s core.

“Effective mining of geothermal heat has the potential to provide enough energy to greatly alter the amount of energy in the United States grid that comes from renewable resources, “Holbrook said. “The earth constantly radiates 44 terawatts of power. In comparison, the entire U.S. grid capacity is one terawatt.”

Holbrook said scientists around the world have converged on TCU to join Holbrook’s research group, and that the group setting is a much more effective approach than the alternative of every scientist writing their own proposals by themselves. 

“It gives us a chance to interact," Holbrook said. "The members of the group are the ones that actually do the research.”

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