AltaRock Seals Deal to Explore for Hot Rocks


Geothermal startup AltaRock Energy says its engineered geothermal systems can tap into the heat of the earth almost anywhere, but it’s clear some sites are better than others. Tuesday morning the Sausalito, Calif.-based startup said it has struck a deal with forest products company Weyerhaeuser to explore 667,000 acres of land across California, Oregon and Washington. The agreement gives exclusive rights to AltaRock to explore the land for geothermal potential and allows AltaRock to convert up to 40 percent of the acreage rights into geothermal development leases within two years.

The 14-month-old startup is flush with $26.25 million of recent funding, including $6.25 million from and investments from Khosla Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital. That money will be used to start construction on a demonstration plant at an undisclosed site next year.

The location of Weyerhaeuser’s forests are near states with renewable portfolio standards like California, Oregon, Washington and Nevada. Geothermal energy is especially attractive to utilities as it can operate 24 hours a day, providing reliable base-load electricity.

Now that AltaRock has the money and the land, it needs a demonstration plant to show off its proprietary engineered geothermal system. Conventional geothermal energy is collected from naturally occurring pockets of underground hot water whose steam can be used to run a turbine, like the reservoir Raser Technologies just tapped in Utah that could produce 238 megawatts of geothermal energy.

What makes AltaRock’s technology “engineered” is that AltaRock creates its own hydrothermal reservoirs by fracturing huge rocks and pumping water underground. This means the technology can be deployed almost anywhere — even close to existing transmission lines, the company says.

Weyerhaeuser has been pursuing its own diverse land management strategy to tap the potential of its assets. Earlier this year the forestry firm launched a joint venture with Chevron called Catchlight Energy, focused on non-food cellulosic biofuel production.

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