It’s no secret that America’s electrical infrastructure could use an upgrade. Earthgrid, a startup out of the Bay Area, is looking to leverage their new technology to make that change. In using what found Troy Helming describes as “a robot with ten lightsabers on the front,” the company has developed tunnel-boring tech that they claim is “100 times faster” and “98% cheaper” than the status quo, according to a report by New Atlas.
Instead of a traditional mechanical boring machine, which uses what amounts to a giant drill bit gouging its way through rock, Earthgrid is looking to take advantage of a process called spallation, in which rock is blasted with extremely high temperatures and pressure until it is vaporized and blown away. This no-contact approach drastically cuts the time of the procedure, as there is no mechanical drill-bit to replace or maintain, and no real friction to work against. These same points also lower cost, in addition to the method running entirely on electricity.
While proof-of-concept of this technique already exists, Earthgrid is looking to up the ante by attaching plasma torches producing heat of 48, 600 degrees Fahrenheit to the front of large discs hooked to the front of a “Rapid Burrowing Robot.” This device is capable of burrowing a hole 1 meter in diameter; for larger widths, the robot would be followed by a series of other burrowing discs, each one several times larger than the last. In theory, this would allow for tunnels large enough to contain multiple lanes of traffic. In its high-speed setting, Earthgrid claims their process could produce a yield up to 1 km (0.62 miles) per day, which they say would be 200 faster than current approaches.
The company says that their plan is to either sell their tunnel boring as a service, or to drill and maintain their own tunnels and then lease them to interested parties. Their overarching hope, though, is to get enough projects in place that they could essentially create an underground network that spans across the country, allowing for more efficient distribution of renewable energy. That dream may indeed be a long way off, but the concept looks promising. Earthgrid hopes to begin their tunneling expeditions later this year.