Most of today’s tunnels were dug with massive perforating shields that mechanically drilled into the rock. They tend to be very slow, very expensive, and difficult to maintain. But there are other ways to penetrate even the toughest rocks. Earlier this year, we at OSLU wrote about the awesome start-up Petra robotic thermal system Swifty, which can quickly tackle hard rock.
Another American startup, Earthgrid, is innovating a similar thermal tunneling technology. Like Petra, they claim they will tunnel much faster (Earthgrid 100 times faster) and cheaper (Earthgrid up to 98 percent cheaper) than mechanical machines. Thanks to this, a number of projects that are useless today can become a reality in the foreseeable future. They can also drill entirely with electricity and save some emissions.
Earthgrid did not advance until Petra. But the design of the RBR (Rapid Burrowing Robot) thermal plasma robots goes further than in the case of startup Petra. These robots have disks with plasma burners arranged in front, by chance according to the “golden” Fibonacci spiral, which creates a temperature of 27 thousand degrees Celsius.
When the RBR robot goes into the tunnel, it ignites the plasma torches and rotates the discs on which the torches are placed. With their help, he crushed the rock carried by small carts. According to Earthgrid founder Troy Helming, the basic version of the RBR robot is equipped with 72 plasma torches, with which it digs a tunnel with a diameter of one meter. In less demanding operation, such a robot needs 40 megawatts. At full power, it swallows 120 MW.
In the rapid formation of tunnels, Earthgrid robots must dig up to one kilometer of tunnels per day. Compared to mechanical punching shields, this is a tremendous speed. By comparison, Elon Musk’s Boring Company’s Prufrock mechanical tunneling system was tunneling an average of just 15 meters per day when it debuted in Las Vegas. In terms of financial costs, in an economical configuration, robots with plasma lamps should be able to handle a 1-meter tunnel for only $300.
Earthgrid would like to offer a service of drilling using plasma robots as a service, with tunneling, operation and maintenance for the customers themselves. Their long-term plan is to connect individual projects to a national network of tunnels that will connect all parts of the United States underground. Such an underground network, for example, can distribute energy from renewable sources as needed.
video: EarthGrid…the future of infrastructure
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