MIT-Born Quaise Raises $6 Million In Round Led By The Engine To Access Geothermal Energy

By Noah Long • Jun 9, 2020
  • Quaise, a company that is pioneering millimeter-wave drilling technology for accessing deep geothermal energy, announced it raised $6 million

Quaise, a company that is pioneering millimeter-wave drilling technology for accessing deep geothermal energy, announced it raised $6 million in a seed round of funding. This round of funding was led by The Engine — which is a venture firm that had spun out of MIT. And Vinod Khosla was also instrumental in founding and funding the company. Collaborative Fund also joined the funding.

Geothermal energy is stored within the Earth and it is available everywhere. However, it has been hampered for use as a significant energy source due to limitations in drilling technology except in select locations where it is accessible near the surface. Due to advances in deep drilling technology, supercritical geothermal energy would be unlocked around the globe and it is abundant enough to power our civilization for thousands of years.

“If we dig deep enough, we can harness this thermal energy with power densities consistent with fossil fuels. These conditions exist everywhere on the planet at depths of 10-20 kilometers. Quaise, a startup born from research at the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center, is pioneering a new type of energy drilling system in order to reach the depths necessary to exploit the largest source of power-dense clean energy on Earth,” says a description about the company on The Engine’s website. “There are few experimental sites on the planet, like Russia’s Kola Superdeep Borehole, that have drilled over 10 kilometers deep using conventional methods. Quaise hopes to dig even deeper in just 100 days, orders of magnitude faster than such experiments. To do it, they will need much more than a tough drill bit.”

Currently, Quaise is developing and commercializing a hybrid deep drilling method that was invented at the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center. And its technology uses a gyrotron to generate millimetric electromagnetic waves for drilling at depths beyond what can be accomplished today with conventional drilling. Plus the company is working toward accessing depths of 10-20 km — which would dramatically open the opportunity for this clean, carbon-free, and power-dense energy source.

“Our focus is on applying this breakthrough approach to drill deep enough to access the abundant hot rock that exists in the Earth’s crust, unlocking a clean energy source at scale,” said Quaise Energy CEO Carlos Araque. “We intend to capitalize on the knowledge and footprint of the oil and gas industry to achieve this goal, giving us a 100-year head start for achieving operations on a global scale.”

The future of geothermal energy and innovation around drilling has been pursued for over a decade by MIT’s Paul Woskov. Woskov had first suggested using gyrotrons to melt and vaporize hard crystalline rock upon reading “The Future of Geothermal Energy report” sponsored by the Department of Energy and received a grant from The MIT Energy Initiative to validate his ideas in the lab.

A few years ago, Woskov was introduced to Carlos Araque and Matt Houde via Aaron Mandell from AltaRock Energy. And in 2018, Aaron, Carlos and Matt collectively founded Quaise to pursue further development and commercialization of the technology.

“The world’s energy demand is expected to increase by 50% over the next three decades with the vast majority of today’s demand met by fossil fuels,” said Ann DeWitt, General Partner at The Engine. “Geothermal energy is one of the few energy sources capable of addressing the challenge this poses to our planet, if it’s broadly accessible. Quaise’s technology promises exactly this.”

This round of funding will support Quaise’s work to mature the technology and build out a multi-disciplinary team across three locations: Boston, MA, Houston, TX, and Cambridge, UK. And Quaise will also further its relationships with field development partners and extend collaborations with research institutions.

“Geothermal remains the most promising non-nuclear dispatchable energy source,” explained Vinod Khosla. “It does not require storage, has a small land footprint and at the depths Quaise is targeting, becomes viable and competitive throughout the world, not just at today’s geothermal sites. Wind and solar, while low cost, require long term storage, and their large land footprints make them viable only in certain locations.”