The search for renewable energy mainly takes place above ground by harnessing the power of the sun, wind and water. But the most reliable source might be located miles below the earth’s surface, in the form of geothermal energy. Temperatures deep below the ground can rise to thousands of degrees – a huge source of potential energy – and you don’t have to worry about weather impacting its availability. The challenge is finding cost-effective ways to drill deep enough.
One of the companies tackling that challenge is Quaise Energy, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based startup that develops novel millimeter wave drilling systems to harness geothermal energy.
Its drilling systems are designed to go as far as 12 miles underground – roughly three to five times deeper than the typical oil and gas drill — which lets it reach a layer of rock that is more than 700 degrees Fahrenheit.
Quaise operates in an industry that has been around for more than a century but is still in the early stages of commercialization on a mass energy-producing scale. Geothermal energy was initially used in Italy in 1904, according to the Arch Daily website. Today, more than 20 countries use geothermal energy, including Indonesia, Mexico, Japan, and the United States, which is the largest producer.
The process involves drilling wells to access hot steam and water below ground, then using the heat to drive turbines that generate electricity. But getting the technology and infrastructure together costs a lot of money.
Quaise has used funding rounds to help address the money problem. Since being co-founded in 2018 by Carlos Araque and Matthew Houde, the company has raised $63 million in funding.
Its latest injection of cash – and biggest to date – came in early February, when it closed a $40 million Series A financing round led by Safar Partners with participation from Prelude Ventures, Fine Structure Ventures, The Engine, Collaborative Fund, Nabors Energy Transition Ventures, and others.
Part of the funding will be used to build field-deployable drilling machines that can demonstrate Quaise’s drilling capabilities by 2024. The company will also expand its teams based in Boston, Houston and Cambridge, UK, to double its number of engineers and create new roles to refine and execute its commercialization strategy.
Quaise plans to use its novel drilling technology to repower traditional power plants, a move that should significantly lower its infrastructure costs. The new plants can also utilize current oil and gas workers to accelerate the shift towards a sustainable energy industry.
“We need a massive amount of carbon-free energy in the coming decades,” Mark Cupta, managing director at Prelude Ventures, said in a press release. “Quaise Energy offers one of the most resource-efficient and nearly infinitely scalable solutions to power our planet. It is the perfect complement to our current renewable solutions, allowing us to reach baseload sustainable power in a not-so-distant future.”
Earlier funding round, in August 2021, raised $12 million in financing from Nabors Industries, one of the world’s biggest land drilling companies.
Quaise got its start after being spun out of the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center. Araque, the company’s CEO, previously worked at energy services giant Schlumberger. He also served as technical director for The Engine, an MIT fund and platform commercializing innovative technologies.
“Our technology allows us to access energy anywhere in the world, at a scale far greater than wind and solar, enabling future generations to thrive in a world powered with abundant clean energy,” said Araque.
Quaise’s other co-founder, Houde, is the project manager for the $5 million grant that Quaise received from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) to develop a new drilling technology.