Earthgrid, a San Francisco-based startup, is developing a plasma boring robot capable of digging tunnels 100 times faster and up to 98% cheaper than existing boring systems, a report by New Atlas revealed.
The company plans to use its technology to rewire energy, internet & utility rids in the United States.
Meet Earthgrid’s Rapid Burrowing Robot
Unlike conventional drilling machines, which typically use massive cut-off wheels to slowly excavate tunnels, Earthgrid robots blast rock at high temperatures to break & vaporize it through a process called spallation.
The machine can run on electricity, which means it can also be zero-emissions, depending on the power source. Earthgrid also claims that its system, which does not require to come into direct contact with the rock directly as-it excavates, is so fast & cheap that it will opens-up a whole host of possibilities. In other words, projects that were once considered economically un-feasible will now be possible.
Earthgrid is currently operating on pre-seed funding & it is developing its Rapid Burrowing Robot (RBR), a spallation boring robot with several 48,600°F (27,000°C) plasma torches mounted on large-discs.
When operational, the RBR will fire-up those torch & rotate disk to blast the rocky surface in its path. The torches on the disc are arranged in a Fibonacci spiral, which means they widen-out away from center for fully covered. Debris collected in small push-carts.
Earthgrid aims to be boring tunnels later this year for customers
Earthgrid has filed a patent for its machine, which provides estimates of the energy needed to power these torches. For example, a version of the RBR that uses 72 plasma torches to drill a 1-meter (3.3-ft) borehole would require about 40 megawatts of electricity at the low power setting. If operators want to go faster, they will have to use the high power setting and will generate a constant 120 MW. All of this for a relatively small hole that a person can hardly fit into. For large tunnels, Earthgrid explains, large rigs would have to-be attached to the back of the BRB, reaching a power requirement of around 1.38 gigawatts.
Using the high-speed configuration, Earthgrid says it can dig up to 1 km (0.62 miles) per day, about 100 times faster than existing systems. For reference, Elon Musk’s Boring Company travels about 0.24 kilometers (0.15 miles) a daily with its porpoising Prufrock mechanical tunnel boring machine. However, the Boring Company says it ultimately aims to drill about 0.7 miles (1.13 km) per day with Prufrock.
Then there’s the cost. “We are much cheaper,” the Earthgrid website reads, “due to much lower operating costs (no need to change drill bits and cutter heads several times a day, much lower power consumption, robots = far fewer workers, no drilling mud or drilling chemicals to dispose of, easier spoils removal, sales of our spoils for road and concrete manufacturing etc. According to the company, a low-cost configuration of the BRB can cost around $300 per 3.3ft of tunnel. However, given the power requirements, which change enormously depending on the configuration, the costs are also likely to change significantly depending on the project.
Earthgrid is currently moving towards a seed funding round. It faces competition from Petra, another company developing plasma boring robots. In a LinkedIn post, Earthgrid’s CEO Troy Helming said the company “hopes to drill a tunnel later this year to generate customer revenue.”