I am an exploration geophysicist by training as well as by passion. I have spent the last 30 years involved in the development and commercialization of exploration technologies that help us better understand the subsurface – mostly in the search for hydrocarbons. I was fortunate to be involved in the early days of depth imaging (Mobil and Western Geophysical), desktop geoscience software development (Sierra Geophysics, Western Atlas Software, and Landmark/Halliburton), seismic acquisition system development and processing (IO, GXT and ION Geophysical) and machine learning aided multi-physics exploration (NEOS GeoSolutions). A constant theme throughout my career has been introducing and leveraging new technologies to help reduce the uncertainties involved in solving subsurface puzzles.
About two years ago I was approached by the venture capital and business incubator arm of Johns Hopkins University (JHU). Their mandate is to help launch new business around ideas and technologies that emerge from the University. They were specifically seeking my assistance in commercializing a novel geothermal technology developed by a team of JHU geoscientists and alumni led by Dr. Bruce Marsh. I quickly saw that many of my business and geoscience technical skills were directly applicable to assisting in the implementation of the technology, which if successful, will offer a low-cost carbon-free sustainable source of baseload power to the world’s energy mix.
With the help of some partners we launched Geothermal Technologies, Inc (GTI), raised seed capital, and started the job of bringing the JHU technology to the marketplace. This included licensing their intellectual property and leveraging my professional network to aggregate a team of additional individuals and companies that provide the key components necessary to build these new innovative geothermal power systems.
Central to our approach is locating and understanding the hydromechanics of sedimentary basins and the sedimentary rocks which host hot water aquifers. Much of the geology and geophysical understandings of our target basins has been derived from the data collected and analyzed in the search for hydrocarbons. We use this information to forward model our system geometries with a focus on longevity. Technologies directly applicable to aid in finding suitable sites for our geothermal power systems include deriving an understanding of the natural fracture systems through the analysis of attributes generated from abundant seismic reflection data. Properties such as velocity anisotropy and understanding seismic diffractions provide critical insights in the design of our systems. Passive and ambient seismic hold additional promise in helping to better understand the natural permeability as well as to monitor drilling and permeability sculpting methodologies where necessary. We also plan on leveraging borehole imaging technologies to help us fine tune the development of the power systems in real time.
In addition we are fortunate to have recruited an excellent drilling partner into our group and will be able to leverage all the recent techniques and technologies developed for shale oil and gas exploitation and work together to repurpose them to tap into the earth’s abundant geothermal resources. We are also in discussions with oil and gas operators to explore ways that we can repurpose their existing oilfield infrastructure into geothermal power stations. Our plan is to build our first proto-type system within the next six months – please wish us luck!
With the earth’s abundant heat source, it is clear to me that low-cost sustainable baseload geothermal power generation is simply an engineering problem that is not very different from the many challenges the mining and oil and gas industries have faced and overcome. My hope is that companies like GTI will be successful in offering not only a sustainable carbon-free source of power to help the energy industry evolve - it will also provide great employment opportunities for those skilled in geoscience and enjoy unraveling the mysteries of the subsurface.
About the Author(s)
Jim Hollis’s career has been focused on introducing and commercializing game-changing exploration technology advancements within the Oil and Gas and Mining industries including innovations in seismic imaging, wireless nodal seismic acquisition, software development and visualization, geospatial intelligence, machine learning enhanced resource exploration and sustainable energy alternatives. Before helping to found Geothermal Technologies, Inc, Jim was the Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of NEOS GeoSolutions, a Silicon Valley based technology company focused on applying Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence to facilitate exploration workflows and reduce uncertainties. Prior to NEOS, he was President and Chief Operating Officer of ION Geophysical Corporation where he was responsible for the growth and financial execution of all ION business units, including multi-client data acquisition, data processing (GX Technologies), seabed and cable-less seismic imaging, and integrated seismic solutions. Prior to joining ION, Jim was General Manager of Exploration and Development Solutions for Landmark Graphics, a software solution subsidiary of Halliburton. He began his career exploring for oil and gas with Mobil Exploration and holds a BS in Geophysics from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and an MS in Geophysics from the University of Utah.