Millimeter-Wave Technology Demonstration for Geothermal Direct Energy Drilling

Default ARPA-E Project Image

OPEN 2018
Seattle, Washington
Project Term:
09/09/2019 - 09/08/2023

Critical Need:

Geothermal energy is a potentially vast source of clean baseload electricity in the U.S. However, it is difficult and expensive to penetrate the ultra-hard rock formations found at many prospective geothermal sites. Conventional drill bits penetrate ultra-hard rock formations slowly and wear down quickly, which makes the drilling process time consuming and expensive. More economical drilling methods are required to enable access to next-generation energy resources, such as enhanced geothermal systems.

Project Innovation + Advantages:

AltaRock Energy will overcome technical limitations to deep geothermal drilling by replacing mechanical methods with a Millimeter Wave (MMW) directed energy technology to melt and vaporize rocks for removal. This approach could increase drilling speed by 10 times or more, reducing costs while reaching higher temperatures and greater depths than those achievable with the best current and proposed mechanical technologies. Project R&D will include benchtop testing as well as larger scale demonstrations of directed MMW drilling at unprecedented borehole lengths and power levels. A detailed modeling and simulations campaign carried out with the experimental work will provide the basis for the design of larger, commercial-scale systems.

Potential Impact:

Successful completion of project objectives will advance the technological maturity of unique high-power MMW energy physics and engineering needed for geothermal energy mining in very deep, high pressure subterranean environments.


Just 0.1% of the heat content of Earth could supply humanity’s total energy needs for 2 million years. Accordingly, minor extraction of the energy available via geothermal energy could provide substantial contributions to U.S. energy needs long-term.


Supercritical enhanced geothermal systems represent an untapped energy source that can produce carbon-free geothermal energy.


Advances in MMW directed energy drilling could vastly improve the economics and reach of geothermal energy, which could become a more significant source of electricity.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. Isik Kizilyalli
Project Contact:
Geoffrey Garrison
Press and General Inquiries Email:
Project Contact Email:


Quaise Energy
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
AltaRock Energy Inc.

Related Projects

Release Date: