LONDON (Reuters) - Scientists will study the possibility of producing geothermal energy from magma for the first time, in a $100 million project in Iceland, which if successful could produce up to 10 times more energy than from a conventional well.
The project is being coordinated by Iceland's Geothermal Research Group (GEORG) and the British Geological Survey, with the participation of 38 institutes and companies from 11 countries including the United States, Canada and Russia.
Producing geothermal energy from magma would enable Iceland to export more energy and could also revive a plan to build a power cable from Iceland to Britain to provide power to British homes, in what would be the world's longest power interconnector.
Iceland, a volcanic island that produces all its electricity from geothermal energy and hydropower, agreed with Britain last year to study building the 1,000-km long IceLink cable, which could power 1.6 million British homes.
Those plans were delayed due to Britain's vote to leave the European Union and concern in Iceland that exports would increase power prices at home and reduce the island's attractiveness to energy-intensive industries such as data centres.
"The (possibility of increasing geothermal energy supply in Iceland) would most certainly be a boost to the proposed (IceLink) plan as there were worries on the effect on local prices with increased exports," Wayne Bryan, an analyst at the British Alfa Energy consultancy, told Reuters.
Britain's National Grid would continue to look into the Icelandic interconnector link, a spokeswoman said.
The magma project, called Krafla Magma Testbed, will involve drilling a hole 2.1 kilometres deep directly into a magma chamber below the Krafla volcano in northern Iceland.
The first phase of the project is planned to start by 2020 and will cost $30 million, the British Geological Survey said in a statement on Friday about the study, which also aims to explore the mechanism of eruptions to protect communities from volcanic disasters. It said it was confident of securing the financing as a number of countries and companies had expressed interest in contributing, but did not give details.
"A magma geothermal well can produce 5 to 10 times more energy compared to a conventional well," said Sigordur Markusson, a project manager for Icelandic utility Landsvirkjun, which will develop the site.
In a country like Iceland with frequent volcanic eruptions, capable of disrupting Europe's aviation system, the project's security is a priority, said Hjalti Pall Ingolfsson, head of the project for GEORG.
"It is quite secure. We have already reached magma before... Nothing indicated that we could cause an eruption," he told Reuters.
Editing by Gwladys Fouche and Susan Fenton