David Anthony ’79 helps bring a new, renewable energy into the mix
by George Fitting ’10
April 1, 2010
Dave Anthony ’79 became an expatriate after meeting Suzan in 1982. They’ve just celebrated their 27th wedding anniversary. Here they are at the edge of the Great Australian Bight, said to be the longest line of sea cliffs in the world.
Dave Anthony ’79 is at the forefront of the push for sustainable, renewable-energy production, working to tap into vast natural-heat sources several miles beneath central Australia’s Cooper Basin. For the last 50 years, that area has been a focus of oil and gas exploration and production.
Having emigrated to Australia 28 years ago, Anthony is now the subsurface group manager for Geodynamics Ltd., a geothermal energy company that is well positioned as a significant player in his adopted country’s future energy market.
One of the best features of geothermal energy is that unlike solar, wind and wave energy, it can provide electricity day and night in all weather conditions. As such “It will no doubt be a major part of the zero-carbon, renewable energy mix,” Anthony claimed.
Anthony’s company employs a new approach called enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) to access the radiogenic heat from massive, deeply buried granite. Hydraulic pressure is applied in an injection well to open up natural fractures in the rock. Via a closed-loop system, water is circulated through the fracture networks, becomes super-heated and returns to the surface through production wells to drive a turbine system that produces electricity.
While conventional forms of geothermal energy rely on cooler liquids in aquifers much closer to the surface, EGS can tap into the vast potential of very high-temperature, deep, fractured rocks. Because of its abundance of such granite, central Australia may have the world’s greatest EGS potential, he said.
Since Anthony joined the company more than a year ago, Geodynamics has demonstrated its EGS project and recently was awarded $80 million (U.S. equivalent) by the Australian government as part of the federal Renewable Energy Demonstration Program. “Our vision is to become a world-leading Australian geothermal company supplying zero-carbon energy and base-load power,” he said.
Anthony came to Adelaide, South Australia, in 1982 expecting to spend a year as a well-site geologist. When he met his future wife, Suzan, the move quickly became permanent. They live in Brisbane, Queensland, and have just celebrated their 27th wedding anniversary.
Although the term sustainability wasn’t a buzzword during his childhood in Massachusetts, Anthony became interested in environmentalism in grade school after reading books like Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. In high school, he worked with the Audubon Society, and at Dickinson he volunteered with the Pennsylvania Alliance for Recycling.
After graduating with a major in geology, Anthony worked in a button factory, a hardware store, and at the Maine Geological Survey before starting his career in the oil and gas industry in Texas and Libya in 1981.
Due to advances in computers and drilling technology, the energy industry has changed dramatically since he started out, Anthony said. “The phenomenal capability of modern modeling software was science fiction to most of us—something we imagined was decades away, not just a few years.”
While the advances unfortunately have made remote oil and gas reserves—often located in environmentally sensitive regions or heritage areas—more accessible in other parts of the world, they also have helped make sustainable energy sources like EGS become viable alternatives.
Citing reports predicting an increase of up to 35-50 percent in the global demand for electricity by 2020, Anthony recognizes the need to reduce society’s dependency on fossil fuels. “It’s one of the most crucial issues of our time.”
Still, breaking through the worldwide fossil-fuel juggernaut will be challenging. “There’s a huge reservoir of goodwill and best intentions in most quarters, but there’s a lack of leadership and coordination at the global level. So this will need to be driven even harder by local and regional groundswells and creative, forward-thinking initiatives,” he said.
Because EGS is so new, it is not yet a competitive alternative to fossil fuels, Anthony said. But “it undoubtedly has huge commercial potential.”
Failing to aggressively pursue fossil-fuel alternatives would be disastrous for the planet, he explained. “I feel there’s no doubt whatsoever that, with few exceptions, most human communities are drunk on fossil fuels and other nonrenewable and unsustainable sources of energy. Humans have altered the natural environment in so many other ways that it’s nonsensical to suggest that we are not also adversely affecting climate.”
In central Australia, Dave Anthony ’79 stands in front of Geodynamics’ Lightning Rig 100, the largest and most technically advanced on-shore drilling rig in Australia.