Former Petroceltic chief executive Brian O’Cathain has joined forces with several other exploration industry figures in a new venture to tap geothermal heat.
Geothermal heat is a constantly available source of energy generated by rocks beneath the earth’s surface, where they are closer to the planet’s molten core. Efforts to develop ways of exploiting it are still at an early stage.
A new Irish company, Causeway GT, established by Mr O’Cathain and several others with exploration industry experience, aims to use modern oil and gas industry drilling techniques to tap this energy.
Dr Niall McCormack, former vice-president of BHP, Dr Simon Todd, who was head of operations and safety with BP, geoscientist Helen Doran and Alison Isherwood, a reservoir engineer, are all involved in the start up.
Causeway GT is researching ways of exploiting geothermal heat to supply industrial and commercial users.
“There is a huge issue around industrial heat: at the moment, it is responsible for 40 per cent of carbon emissions,” Mr O’Cathain explained on Friday.
He added that gas, oil and even peat are used to generate most of the heat used in the Republic.
Mr O’Cathain calculated that the Irish market alone is worth around €3 billion a year, with most of that supplied by oil and gas imports. At the same time, it produces around 14 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, making it a significant contributor to the Republic’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Mr O’Cathain pointed out that efforts to cut these emissions are lagging advances made in doing the same with electricity and transport.
Tapping geothermal heat involves drilling through the surface to the rock to release the energy. While the rocks beneath Ireland's surface do not have the same heat as those in volcanic regions such as Iceland or New Zealand, Mr O'Cathain believes they should have more than enough to begin supplying industrial needs here.
"Ireland is as good a place as any to start," he said. If the company is successful here, there were opportunities to expand into other countries, he pointed out.
Causeway GT intends taking new drilling techniques, developed mostly in the US over the last two decades, and adapting them to exploit geothermal heat.
“We’re still very much at the research stage,” Mr O’Cathain noted. However, he added the company could be looking to raise its first “serious capital” in around 12 months.
Mr O'Cathain is a well-known figure in Irish exploration. He is still involved in the industry where he is chairman of Europa Oil & GAs and a director of Nephin Energy.
Successfully exploiting geothermal has huge potential as, unlike other renewables such as wind and solar, it is not intermittent. “It’s always there,” said Mr O’Cathain, “it’s not a finite resource”.