Geothermics is a hot topic in more ways than one! With the search on for alternative forms of energy, geothermics is shaping up to be a major contributor in the future.
So what is geothermics? It is the study of geothermal energy, which is the interior heat of the earth. The word comes from two Greek words: geo, meaning earth, and therme, meaning heat.
Most people are familiar with geothermal energy through phenomena such as hot springs, hot mud pools, geysers, and of course, volcanoes and fumaroles (which are holes near volcanoes through which steam and hot gases shoot out).
The heat is produced in the earth's crust and upper mantle largely by decaying radioactive elements such as uranium and potassium. The heat radiates upwards and heats underground rocks and underground water to produce hot water and steam. The heat escapes to the surface in areas where two tectonic plates meet or where the earth's crust is thin. Even outside these areas, the heat even a short distance underground can be useful enough to heat buildings through heat pump systems.
Geothermics is not just a study of the heat however. It is also a science that aims to find practical applications for geothermal energy, which is an environmentally clean, sustainable form of energy.
Geothermal energy has been used for thousands of years in countries such as Iceland and New Zealand to provide heating and for bathing. In New Zealand the Maoris also used hot rocks for their cooking.
Buildings are heated by geothermal liquids (mostly hot water) in places as far afield as a suburb in Paris, in Budapest, Turkey and part of Boise, Idaho. In Iceland almost 90% of buildings are heated by geothermal energy.
Geothermal energy was first used to produce electricity in 1904 in Tuscany, Italy, but the largest is 'The Geysers' in California, which generates enough electricity to satisfy most of San Francisco's demand. There are many other geothermal power plants operating elsewhere in the US, and around the world, and the search is on for other potential sites.
The future for geothermics looks bright since the search for alternatives to fossil fuels is urgent, and geothermal energy is a cheaper and cleaner option than some other renewable energy resources.
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