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INNOVATE | Geothermal in Coal Country

Infographic: Brian Kaas

Home-Style Energy

Most five-year-olds in West Virginia aren't asked to ponder difficult problems in oil and gas drilling, but Brian Anderson was. His dad, a troubleshooting chemist for the fossil fuel industry, would ask him: How would you cool down a hot drill bit? How would you lift rock out of a deep hole? How would you separate oil from water?

Anderson, now 33, is an assistant professor at West Virginia University (WVU) and a principal investigator on a $1.2 million, nationwide project to assess what's known as "enhanced geothermal systems."

Anderson could have gone almost anywhere after earning a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but he returned to Appalachian coal country. It just made sense to a guy who'd grown up among oil pumps and coalfields.

Geothermal was barely a bump in the energy landscape when Anderson signed on at WVU in 2006. Then the Obama administration steered millions of dollars toward geothermal research, and last year a new survey, by Southern Methodist University's Geothermal Laboratory, determined that the best geothermal resource in the eastern United States was almost right under Anderson's feet.

"West Virginia is an energy state, and I am a West Virginian through and through," he says. "Ultimately, I want to change the landscape of energy usage. I want geothermal to be viable anywhere." —David Ferris

Photo courtesy of Allison Toffle, WVU Photographic Services

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