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A steam powered trip around the world

RooFlyer

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Just because we aren't travelling much these days, no reason for the Trip Reports to stop, I reckon :)

Would you believe I used to run a renewable energy company - 'hot rocks' geothermal energy, to be precise. Quite an amazing time, until it got killed off by the GFC, when we couldn't get the private investment to drill the super-expensive large diameter bores to tap the energy at depth. Talking the mid 2000s; geothermal was still very new in Australia and no-one was doing it commercially, or, at first, even had any wells down. We had our tenement (covered most of Tasmania, actually) and were making giant steps in delineating a buried geothermal resource, but to learn about the industry - power plants and commercialisation especially, we had to see how it was done overseas, where there were a number of operating sites of various types of geothermal, and some other experimental 'hot rocks' sites. Also lots of global experts to tap.

(I'll keep the technical stuff to a minimum, but 'hot rocks' means you drill down abt 5km into hot granites, multiple holes. Fracture between the holes ('fraccing' - don't be alarmed, its a technical term, not an alias for the Devil :)); then water down one, it flows through the fractures, flashes to steam, comes up another hole and drives a turbine; steam condenses, then down the hole again. Other types are like in Iceland & NZ where you have molten rock close to the surface and the steam comes from shallow groundwater; or like Italy & USA where there are shallow intrusive rocks and sort of a hybrid between the other two.)

To get an idea about what I'm on about, here is a geothermal well being vented at Lardarello in Tuscany, Italy. Raw steam from the ground.


So, in 2014 our chief technical guy and I headed off to see how it was done and to chat to various experts, including some who were advising us directly. This was the overall route. Because it was a trip before AFF for me, no pics of the aircraft/meals :oops:, but we did manage to take in some sights along the way. ;) (We were a private company then, so we were very much spending our own money! )

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The main locations visited were:

Falmouth/Portsmouth, UK
Alsace, France
Basel, Switzerland
Rhineland, Germany
Pisa & Tuscany, Italy
Iceland
Boston, Nevada and California, USA
New Zealand

So, lets see how this goes ... it might turn out pretty lame if I don't find enough scenic pics.
 

RooFlyer

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We then flew to Frankfurt, where I got a lesson on hire cars. We had booked an Avis car, pick-up in Frankfurt and leave at Florence, where we would be flying out of. On collection at FRA, we were told for the first time of a ~ 1,200 euro 'one way fee' (this was some years ago, remember - much less worldly-wise then!). Well, that wasn't going to happen! It was mainly, of course, because we wanted to leave the car in Italy, like everyone else. So over the next few days we changed our flights to fly out of Zurich - anywhere that wasn't Italy. It just meant a long drive north on the last day.

This is the route through Europe:

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Actually, it looks a lot like the part of my recent RTW that got abandoned. The route was in 3 parts - the Rhine Valley, which is actually a graben, and so there were several sites being tested in Germany and France where the cover rocks were relatively thin. Then, Basel, where there was a good research institute, and finally Tuscany, Italy where there has been a geothermal field exploited since Roman times and now a big geothermal electricity producer. Oh, and Monaco was a late addition, as a possible corporate fund-raiser ;)

First stop was Landau, Germany where there was a privately funded experimental drill site set up. Good visit, but no pictures allowed. So I just got this video from the outside :(


Then Soultz, in eastern France. An EU funded project, so quite open. In fact you can't miss it. Just outside the charming village of Soultz-sous-forets and the locals aren't impressed to have an industrial development there.

A hot spring near town, not that charmingly tapped:


The village from the plant (under construction)


and some scenes about the village

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Never lost!

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RooFlyer

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We hit the road for Basel, Switzerland, which adjoins (and has suburbs in) France and Germany. On this drive, we had taken one of the relatively new-fangled GPSs, with route guidance rather than paper maps. Soon learned that with the GPS, you knew where you were going, but didn't know where you were, so we turfed the GPS and bought some nice highway maps. Much better. On the other hand, I learned that my companion wasn't so proficient at left-hand driving, and tended to veer off the lane when he was talking. I subtly took over more and more of the driving soon after that!

Basel is the location of another research institute, which we visited. Also stretched our legs.

Basel Minster, or Cathedral, last building phase around 1500, after the big earthquake of 1356.

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The town hall, or Rathaus, built around 1500 (renovated 1901 :) )

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The 'Middle Bridge', reconstructed in stone around 1900 and the site of the oldest crossing of the Rhine.

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RooFlyer

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South, through Switzerland in March was a great drive. My travelling companion had never been there, so we stopped at quite a few places to take in the tourist views.

Lake Lucerne

Lake Lucerne Switzerland Mar 08.JPG

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Horrible SD video quality - and crappy video operatorship :rolleyes: You can hear the highway traffic in the background - no actual tourist diversions for us :) - yet.

We stopped for petrol on approach to the Gotthard Road Tunnel; this was only a couple of years after the notorious fire and 11 deaths after a truck collision.

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Entering the Gotthard Road tunnel - you might want to turn the sound down :p


A quick stop at the Castillo di Sasso Corbaro, a 15th century castle near Bellinzona in southern Switzerland.

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RooFlyer

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Onward, we sped ... destination Genoa for the night. Lake Como was just a blur
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... but somehow we made much better time than we expected from Basel, so we decided to take a diversion, with the possibility of some corporate funds-raising. 36 black, on the tables in Monaco!

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We drove down, but having done a pass at the casino (above), decided that maybe we weren't dressed well enough, so drove on :( We'll have to go to the ASX like everyone else (which we did, successfully, later that year).

After a night in Genoa, we drove down to Tirrenia, on the Mediterranean coast near Pisa. Pisa is the local headquarters for Enel, an electricity company. Now its a multinational, but back then I remember it being the Italian State power company. The Enel operations in the area are in the ancient geothermal field in Tuscany and its one of the major geothermal energy generation centres in the world. We had been introduced to Enel by one of our US technical experts and were promised a good visit.

i can't remember why we chose Tirrenia to stay, rather than Pisa. i think the thought of driving and parking in the high-tourist, medieval city might have spooked us - and it was only 20 mins drive to the Enel office, on the outskirts.

View to the Apennines from our hotel

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And I think my first experience of the Med

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RooFlyer

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We saw our contact at Enel - a very charming and gracious host who was going to take us around the geothermal field, centred at Larderello, almost bang in the centre of Tuscany and about 90 mins drive SE of Pisa. We remembered to offer to buy him lunch, as we were warned by our contact who made the introduction "If you don't buy lunch, you'll eat at the Enel cafeteria at Larderello - and its possibly the ONLY place in Tuscany where you'll get a bad meal". He happily made a call and made a reservation for lunch at one of his favourite places in one of the little villages in the area. :)

The geothermal fields in the area have been used since at east Roman times

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Larderello town is OK, but in places its dominated by the old-style cooling towers from geothermal power plants.

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Would you believe that most of these concrete towers were decommissioned up to 10 years previously, but they couldn't be taken down as they were declared 'heritage' :rolleyes:. BTW, this is what modern cooling systems look like. Its just steam - cooling and condensing after having gone through the turbines.

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This, our host told us proudly, was an 'architecturally designed' power station (turbine house) - Tuscan colour scheme 😄

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Views around the countryside with well heads and power stations - just steam, remember ;) And no, i wouldn't like to be in Tuscany and have one of those next door!

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The power of steam, straight from the earth.


I have a vague memory that the engineer said that this well could power up to about 8MW, 24/7. There was about 2 GW being generated in the area at the time.

It was getting time for lunch, so we drove on; our destination in the distance:

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One way or another we were on the right track!

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Alas, in those days taking pics of food etc wasn't the done thing. All I remember was that it was one of those lunches, in a tiny restaurant in some tiny village, that you remember forever. BUT I also remember when the grappa came out. 'Fortunately' I don't drink any liquor like that, so I abstained, but everyone else - including our driver/host went a number of rounds of toasts! The drive back was a bit worrisome, but went OK.

Some more videos of 'landscapes and power stations'


 

RooFlyer

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Next day, we had a meeting with another research institute in Pisa, then the afternoon free. What to do?

Ummm ... 💡 🙂

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The tower was begun in the 12th century and took nearly 200 years to complete. It began to sink by the time they got to the second floor.

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Next to the Tower is the Pisa Cathedral, Santa Maria Assunta, begun in 1063 and enlarged during the next century. There was a fire in 1595 which destroyed the roof and other modifications were done then and later.

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The Cathedral from the Pisa Baptistery

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The Baptistery was built between 1152 and 1363 and is 54m high, and has a small lean of its own. The roof is half lead sheets, half tiles, giving it the odd colouration.

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The font in the baptistery, 13th century.

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RooFlyer

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That afternoon, we drove to Florence, where we were originally scheduled to drop the car and fly out the next day to Heathrow, then onto Iceland . Now we had to return the car to Zurich, about 7 hours from Florence, with our flight now the following day.

Only 7 hours eh? We kept hour hotel booking so had all the next day to get to Zurich, so time for some meditation and writing up notes from the meetings and visits sightseeing. I'd been to Florence before, but the other guy hadn't, but was only moderately interested, so we were content with a quick walk through the highlights. This might be the briefest, most horrible TR on Florence, ever!

Baptistery, built 1059-1128, and cathedral tower

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Cathedral , 1296-1436

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Piazza della Signoria and Palazzo Vecchio, town hall

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Ponte vecchio, last rebuilt 1345

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Hmmm ... no pics of the drive to Zurich, but I remember a traffic jam at Lake Como which consumed an hour. We then approached the Gotthard tunnel as it was getting dark, and I remember passing a mile or more of parked trucks, waiting to transit the tunnel, which was only one lane each way. Cars got priority, else we would have been there for a day or so, I think.

Overnight Zurich, then to LHR and onto the home of geothermal energy , Iceland. My third trip there, one for tourism, one prior geothermal visit. No only does Iceland have tremendous geothermal energy infrastructure, but their banks were positioning themselves as 'geothermal bankers to the world'. A couple of their banks had visited Australia already, so this was also a trip to polish the begging bowl for when we wanted to borrow some real money. # - see outcome, below.

You know there is plenty of cheap electricity about when there are 3 aluminium smelters in a small country with no raw material resources.

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We visited the famous Blue Lagoon, of course ... but only because there was a geothermal power station there 🙂 In fact, the Blue Lagoon was created by the power station. It was set on a lava field, and let its 'waste' water, drain out the back onto the highly porous lava field. Tiny, colloidal silica suspended in the water settled like clay and blocked up all the drainage, and eventually pools of that amazing blue water formed (again, the colour comes about by reflections from the colloidal silica in the spent power station water).

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Behind-the-scenes at the Blue Lagoon (steam extraction well)

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Another power station, inland

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Yes, we went inside and had a look - it was an open, tourist attraction! 60MW turbines

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# Iceland has a population of about 350,000. yet it had about 3 banks each the size of Macquarie bank here in Oz, and a couple of others. Quite a large pyramid scheme, as it happened. When the GFC hit, they sunk like stones.
 
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Reykjavik was rather pleasant, in a cold and blustery kind of way. Eye-wateringly expensive though due to a ridiculous exchange rate, which made even the English blanch at the FX costs. We didn't try the fermented shark meat.

Reykjavik cathedral. The tower is designed to look like columns of basalt.

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Rekjavic Harbour display.JPG

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The next day we drove up to Þingvellir, or Thingvellir for most of us. Its where the mid Atlantic Ridge is exposed on-land and sorta a sacred site for geologists. then onto Geysir, a famous geothermal feature and Gulfoss, a waterfall. if we drove straight to Gulfoss, it would have taken us about 2 hours, so an easy day's geothermal research sightseeing.

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It was March, so just coming out of the local winter, and by the wind and cold, it hadn't come very far!

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The Icelandic parliament, or Althing, sat at Thingvellir from 930 AD to 1798. But it was the ability to walk into an actual mid-ocean rift that made it a special place for us. @Denali , this is what I meant when you went there and I said hubby didn't need to go diving underwater to see the rift (although he would have looked a bit silly in all his diving gear walking around Thingvellir 🙂 )

Pingvellir Mid Atlantic rift canyon 3.JPG


 

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Next stop, the geysers at Geysir and Skrokkur . Geysir is the most spectacular, but irregular. Strokkur goes off every 5-10 minutes. Dammit, I can't find my videos of geysir. But these give you the idea

Bubble, bubble ...
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toil and trouble!

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Strokkur:



Gulfoss waterfall

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All in all a really good trip to Iceland. We actually did see many more power stations, turbines and drill rigs than i have shown. I am capable of some mercy !

Next stop, Boston via LHR.
 

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The, back to LHR and then BA to Boston. I remember this flight for two reasons. It was my first experience of 'flying backwards' in BA Business Class. Then, I remember that after we took off from LHR, I detected absolutely no turn in the aircraft until we were taxiing at BOS.

MIT in Boston was the home of the them absolute top guru in hot rocks geothermal. Advisor to governments, the UN etc and had just chaired a committee that wrote the 'bible' on the subject. The Chairman of our company had been in touch with him for some time and he agreed to see us, perhaps curious about where Tasmania was ! 🙂

That's MIT across the river from my hotel

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It was a strange meeting. Clearly we were a one line entry in his diary and he admitted he wasn't sure if we'd turn up. But he listened attentively and at the end agreed to consider our request that he join our 'international technical advisory committee' - basically the people and experts we had been seeing during our trip. He did end up joining it and when he visited Australia the next year - he had two groups to meet. One was the Australian government in Canberra, and the other was us in Hobart. 🙂

After Boston, it was off to Nevada, another long standing geothermal energy centre.

I'd been to Reno a lot before - for 6 months as a geo I was based at a gold mine to its north, but again my colleague hadn't, so I showed him some sights.

Lake Tahoe

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Virginia City and surrounds - an old gold and silver mining area

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Looking towards Reno from Virginia City

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I went back to Reno a number of times after this. Its the venue for the annual US geothermal conference, which is the defacto world geothermal conference. One year, the MIT guy spruiked our technical work to some of the conference folks, and I got invited to give a paper on the opening, plenary day (I'm sure it was more for the novelty of 'Tasmania' rather than any technical interest :rolleyes: ) 4,000 pairs of ears ... :oops:
 

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There is a locality just out of Reno called 'Steamboat springs', which gives you the idea that its a good geothermal area. A number of modern, small plants which we had an idea to replicate. Only technical pics here, but just to show how compact and unobtrusive these things are. This is a 30MW plant.

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Cooling plant - no more of the big stacks you saw at Lardarello

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Quite an adventure. My work trips usually involved a flight to rural NSW, and hour dealing with the business at hand, a couple of hours out in the field laying out contour banks (for my education) and then lunch at the local pub/club. Then overnight in a motel, and I used to try and have a Chinese dinner in every town, as a sort of gastronomic adventure. I never thought to take any pictures, but looking back they were great times even if not on the scale of this steamy trip.
 

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Then we drove to the Napa valley to see more geothermal. No, really! In the mountains to the north - just near Russian River, actually, is 'They Geysers' and a collection of geothermal electricity plants, and many drillers and suppliers are based in the Napa.

Long video, the first 10-15 secs will give you the idea


The Geysers area is very scenic, but a bit despoiled by the fires they seem to generate, and not a lot of sympathy in laying the infrastructure

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Our last stop in the USA was San Francisco, to see Google. The Google Foundation (I think that was or is its name) was set up with a bunch of Google shares for philanthropic purposes. At the time (2005-2006) they were heavily into renewable energy and was funding a number of projects around the world, and they were keen on geothermal. So ker-CHING! went our minds. They had a motto 'RE<C', meaning make Renewable Energy cost less than Carbon (Funnily enough, back then, and i notice even now, if you do a Google search on RE<C or RE < C, you don't get any results relating to google's initiative 🙂 )

So, we paid 'em a visit and got an audience with the MD and one of his technical guys who we had previously seen in Australia. The thing I remember from the visit was that the office, in downtown SFO, was entirely WHITE, as in, everything was white, except for colourful 3D 'Google' lettering here and there. Oh, and the Google guy couldn't get his projector to work :rolleyes:. We never did get any grants from Google, but nice to try.

The only pics from SFO I have from that visit are, predictably

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