GNS and Geo40 increase geothermal presence in Japan

Our Science

01 July 2022

GNS Science hopes to actively support Japan’s ambitious plan to build more than 60 geothermal power plants to address its energy targets and marked the opening of an office in Tokyo in April.

The new Japan-based office will support a New Zealand geothermal coalition between GNS and New Zealand geothermal innovation company, Geo40. Its opening coincided with New Zealand’s first major trade mission since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The expansion in Japan comes as the energy sectors of both countries sharpen their focus, as governments grapple with how they can meet changing demands for energy, without causing irreversible impact to the environment. 

Left to right: Yuki Sadamitsu, Director-General, Natural Resources and Fuel Department, Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), Minister for Trade Damien O’Connor, Haruo Hayashi, President of the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Resilience (NIED), Haruya Nakata, President of Geothermal Energy Research & Development Co., Ltd. (GERD), Tetsuhiro Hosono, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC), Shin Maeda, President, Tokyo Tower, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, and GNS Science chief executive Ian Simpson

“It’s a major science challenge. How to do we produce more renewable electricity in a way that increases the overall security of our power supply? That’s what both Japan and New Zealand are both trying to solve,” says Dr John Burnell, Energy Futures Research Leader, and Senior Geothermal Modeller.

It’s a major science challenge. How to do we produce more renewable electricity in a way that increases the overall security of our power supply?

John Burnell Energy Futures Research Theme Leader GNS Science

“Solar relies on the sun; wind farms the winds, and hydro requires lakes with sufficient water. Geothermal is ideal as it is not affected by weather and is always available. 

“Both countries have some unique advantages that they can build on, including zones of unique high heat flow in the Central North Island of New Zealand and around many national parks in Japan. Maximising the reliable and plentiful geothermal power source is vital for both countries if they are to achieve their visions for carbon-neutral economies by 2050."

Japan is estimated to have the third largest source in the world of geothermal energy beneath its surface, capable of producing around 23,470 megawatts. With only twenty or so geothermal plants operating in Japan, outputting around 535 MW, the country has vast opportunities for expansion. 

In three short years, the Japanese Government’s renewable energy target – which includes wind and solar – has increased from 22-24% renewable to 36-38% renewable by 2030. More than 60 geothermal plants are required to help expand their mix of energy generation. With an average cost of each geothermal plant at around $200million USD, identifying exactly where to build and drill requires some complex science.

NS Science’s world-leading New Zealand Geothermal Analytical Laboratory has been providing commercial geothermal and groundwater analysis services to companies all over the world. 

“We have a number of research programmes underway including Ultra Hot – Supercritical Geothermal, which envisages drilling deeper to access more energy, and we are working with industry on geothermal carbon capture which is currently being trialled in New Zealand,” Dr Burnell explains. 

Preliminary estimates suggest there are large amounts of energy stored in New Zealand’s deep superhot geothermal systems, enough to meet Aotearoa’s energy needs for hundreds of years.

“Our geothermal exploration and geothermal systems research, coupled with learnings from New Zealand developments, can add considerable value for Japan.”

Our geothermal exploration and geothermal systems research, coupled with learnings from New Zealand developments, can add considerable value for Japan.

Dr John Burnell Energy Futures Theme Leader GNS Science

The new Japan-based office will support a New Zealand geothermal coalition between GNS and New Zealand geothermal innovation company, Geo40. Both parties have shared interests and provide complementary services.

Yoshifumi Imamura, Japan Country Manager. Now working for GNS Science in Japan, Yoshifumi Imamura was most recently New Zealand Trade and Enterprise’s Head of Business Development Technology and Services / Manufacturing - Japan for the past five years

With support from Geo40, their world-first commercial-scale plant can recover high-value minerals from geothermal fluids to get value out of by-products such as silica. This is used in everything from papermaking to permeation grouting and could also help sustainably source low-carbon lithium for electric transport in the future.

Back home, GNS Science will continue to focus on modelling, geology, geophysics, geochemistry, and other work to unlock even more out of our geothermal resource. Our Wairakei location is the nexus for solving industry challenges around geothermal energy and brings together leading researchers, industry partners and key stakeholders, including central and local government and iwi Māori.

“If we are going to meet our climate commitments, and help our global partners meet theirs, it is vital that we invest in research, science, innovation and technologies that can drive that success,” Dr Burnell says.

It is vital that we invest in research, science, innovation and technologies that can drive that success

Dr John Burnell Energy Futures Theme Leader GNS Science

New Zealand’s recently released Emissions Reduction Plan supports the transformation of New Zealand’s energy sector, of which fossil fuel currently powers 60 percent. In Japan, fossil fuel accounts for 88 percent, driving its ambitious programme to reduce or eliminate its reliance on fossil fuels and emissions from their energy system.

John Burnell Energy Futures Theme Leader

John is a numerical modeller who has over 30 years experience working on a wide range of energy related projects. His main focus is geothermal reservoir modelling, undertaking both research and consulting. He has developed models of geothermal systems throughout the world, for both consenting purposes and resource planning. He has worked on models of: Ngawha, Wairakei, Rotokawa, Rotorua, Tauhara, Kawerau, Mokai, (New Zealand), Mt Apo, Bacman (Philippines), Kakkonda, Uenotai, Sumikawa (Japan), and Luiese (Papua New Guinea). He has long-standing involvement in the resource consent process in New Zealand, both developing models to assess environmental impacts and appearing as an expert witness at consent hearings. He is able to develop new software for solving modelling problems, and is the developer of a commercially available Tough2 pre-processor. John is currently the NZ convener of the IPGT Reservoir Modelling Group, and has served on the NZ Geothermal Association Board. In addition to geothermal modelling, John has worked on models of gas reservoirs, heat exchangers, heat transfer in reformer furnaces, casting furnaces, heater design, heat transfer in coolstores, biofilm growth and electroosmotic flow

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