Mining is something we all benefit from, but it’s not actually that great from a practicality standpoint. Huge investments of capital are required to produce and maintain the equipment required to do the work. I mean just look at the variety of drill heads that are available for various different kinds of mining.
I’m a big fan of quality engineering, and while these modern drill heads hit a lot of the happy engineering boxes they are unfortunately limited by the fact that they are constrained by the amount of energy you can put through them. Go too fast, or push to hard and you’ll wear them down to nubs before you make any progress. And even when you run them in ideal conditions, they eventually wear out and need to be replaced anyways.
Now here’s where I have a bit of an internal conflict. I’m a materials engineer at heart so I really want to say that these problems can be overcome with better materials and more money spent on fundamental materials and metallurgical research. But from my nuclear advocacy standpoint, I know that we already have the answer to this conundrum and it’s we need a new way to deposit energy into the rock to mine it or drill through it.
A contact free, high speed, pollution free drilling method, the only real barrier is a steady, cheap, clean method to produce enough hydrogen to fuel the system. If only we had a method to do that…
The keen listeners might have noticed that the primary goal of this device seems to be for drilling geothermal power wells. If you are confused about that and why I, a pro-nuclear advocate, would be promoting a technology that is currently focused on reducing costs of a competing technology to nuclear energy I’ll let you in on a secret. I don’t just like nuclear energy as a final answer, I like nuclear energy more because it opens the doors to so many more answers than we currently have. Case in point, drilling with this hydrogen flame drill would require no liquid lubricant meaning no possibility of contaminating any groundwater it might come into contact with. And they say it works 10 times faster than current hard rock drilling methods, up to 30 meters (100 feet for you Americans) an hour.
Plus lets be honest, if you aren’t curious about what a tunnel boring machine with a whole drill face of these flame drills would look like, then you lost contact with your inner child a long time ago. Put an SMR on that baby to power it and split water to make the hydrogen and oxygen, and you have a machine that could drill a subway tunnel across a continent or any number of other awesome things that are currently extremely difficult to do underground.