Google.org Invests in Geothermal Technology, Seeks Patent on Floating Data Centers

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Last month Google.org announced investment of over $10 million in geothermal technology.  Specifically, the web search company’s investment arm will give $6.25 million to Sausalito California-based geothermal company AltaRock Energy (AltaRock), $4 million to Redwood City, California drilling technology company Potter Drilling (Potter) and almost $500,000 to the Southern Methodist University Geothermal Lab (SMU) (see greentech media piece here)

Although the United States trails other countries in some renewable energy sectors such as solar, wind and biofuels, it is the world leader in geothermal energy.

The particular technology Google.org is funding is EGS, or enhanced geothermal systems, which involve drilling deep holes into hot rock in two locations and injecting water into the cracks in the first location.  Steam pressure forces the resulting super-heated water up through the holes in the second location, and that heat is used to run a turbine and produce electricity.

According to AltaRock’s web site, the company owns a portfolio of EGS patent applications and holds exclusive licenses for related intellectual property.  However, searches of the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office database for AltaRock as assignee yielded no results, and AltaRock did not respond to an e-mail inquiry about its patent portfolio.  A similar search for SMU also came up empty.

The good news for AltaRock continued this month as it reached a deal with building products and real estate firm Weyerhauser Company to develop geothermal projects in northern California, Oregon and Washington.

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Potter owns a patent application directed to drilling systems and methods for geothermal heat pump applications.  U.S. Patent Application Pub. No. 2008/0093125 (‘125 application) describes a method for creating more stable bore holes by making the holes non-circular.

According to the ‘125 application, elliptical, oval or eccentric shaped holes prevent portions of the rock formation from breaking apart from the bore hole wall.  Non-circular bore holes also facilitate installation of piping for heat pumps and provide improved geometry for heat exchange.

In addition to funding clean technologies, Google is developing its own.  Last month Google Inc.’s U.S. Patent Applicaton Pub. No. 2008/0209234 (‘234 application) published. 

The ‘234 application describes a floating platform-mounted computer data center with an electrical generator and cooling units.  The data center of the ‘234 application gets its electricity from wave power and is cooled by the sea water upon which it floats.

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Eric Lane

Eric Lane, the founder and principal of Green Patent Law, is an intellectual property lawyer and registered U.S. patent attorney in New York and is a member of the bar in New York and California. Eric has more than two decades of experience working with wind, solar PV, CSP, biofuels, and geothermal, energy storage technologies, carbon capture and sequestration, medical devices, data communications, mechanical, chemical, internet and software.