A new assessment of combined geothermal electric generation and desalination in western Saudi Arabia: targeted hot spot development

by Thomas M. Missimer, P. Martin Mai, Noreddine Ghaffour
Year: 2014

Extra Information

Desalination and Water Treatment. July 2014, Vol. 55, Issue 11. 


High heat flow associated with the tectonic spreading of the Red Sea make western Saudi Arabia a region with high potential for geothermal energy development. The hydraulic properties of the Precambrian-age rocks occurring in this region are not conducive to direct production of hot water for heat exchange, which will necessitate use of the hot dry rock (HDR) heat harvesting method. This would require the construction of coupled deep wells; one for water injection and the other for steam recovery. There are some technological challenges in the design, construction, and operation of HDR geothermal energy systems. Careful geotechnical evaluation of the heat reservoir must be conducted to ascertain the geothermal gradient at the chosen site to allow pre-design modeling of the system for assessment of operational heat flow maintenance. Also, naturally occurring fractures or faults must be carefully evaluated to make an assessment of the potential for induced seismicity. It is anticipated that the flow heat exchange capacity of the system will require enhancement by the use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing in the injection well with the production well drilled into the fracture zone to maximum water recovery efficiency and reduce operating pressure. The heated water must be maintained under pressure and flashed to steam at surface to produce to the most effective energy recovery. Most past evaluations of geothermal energy development in this region have been focused on the potential for solely electricity generation, but direct use of produced steam could be coupled with thermally driven desalination technologies such as multi-effect distillation, adsorption desalination, and/or membrane distillation to provide a continuous source of heat to allow very efficient operation of the plants.