Geothermal energy in deep aquifers: A global assessment of the resource base for direct heat utilization

Jon Limberger*, Thijs Boxem, Maarten Pluymaekers, David Bruhn, Adele Manzella, Philippe Calcagno, Fred Beekman, Sierd Cloetingh, Jan Diederik van Wees

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleScientificpeer-review

96 Citations (Scopus)
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In this paper we present results of a global resource assessment for geothermal energy within deep aquifers for direct heat utilization. Greenhouse heating, spatial heating, and spatial cooling are considered in this assessment. We derive subsurface temperatures from geophysical data and apply a volumetric heat-in-place method to improve current global geothermal resource base estimates for direct heat applications. The amount of thermal energy stored within aquifers depends on the Earth's heat flow, aquifer volume, and thermal properties. We assess the thermal energy available by estimating subsurface temperatures up to a depth of three kilometer depending on aquifer thickness. The distribution of geothermal resources is displayed in a series of maps and the depth of the minimum production temperature is used as an indicator of performance and technical feasibility. Suitable aquifers underlay 16% of the Earth's land surface and store an estimated 4·105 to 5·106 EJ that could theoretically be used for direct heat applications. Even with a conservative recovery factor of 1% and an assumed lifetime of 30 years, the annual recoverable geothermal energy is in the same order as the world final energy consumption of 363.5 EJ yr−1. Although the amount of geothermal energy stored in aquifers is vast, geothermal direct heat applications are currently underdeveloped with less than one thousandth of their technical potential used.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)961-975
Number of pages15
JournalRenewable & Sustainable Energy Reviews
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2018


  • Direct heat utilization
  • Geothermal energy
  • Global resources
  • Heat flow
  • Heat in place


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