New Plasma Drilling Robot to help rewire the USA

Plasma Drilling Robot  - Tunnel Boring Robot from Earthgrid

 

Earthgrid-Plasma Drilling Robot

Image from nationworldnews.com

Main image from singularityhub.com

An early-stage startup in the US is attempting to shake up the utility tunneling industry like nothing before. Using plasma drilling bots, they aim to drastically reduce the cost and time needed to create tunnels for Tunnels for Fiber, Energy, Water, Gas, Vehicles, Pedestrians, and High-Speed Transit.

Earthgrid calls itself a “Public Benefit Corporation” that aims to “revolutionize the way to a National Super-Grid using patented tunnel boring robots (TBRs) to lower costs by up to 98%.” 

For comparison, The Boring Company's tunneling machine Prufrock can bore up to 0.15 miles per day and Earthgrid claims their robot can bore up to 0.68 miles per day.

Speaking of a new power grid, check out this utility pole in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Its a wonderful place with these bizarre webs of power, telephone and internet cables hanging along the streets. Some of these cables can definitely find a new home underground.

Utility pole in Chiang Mai

What are they trying to achieve?

Part of why networking infrastructure is so expensive is how much it costs to install and maintain. You can imagine how much weathering above-ground wiring goes through in a given year.

Not only does it have to stand through daily weather, but it has to endure storms, seasonal changes, and other physical hazards.

On the other hand, underground cabling can also be expensive due to the costs of boring at such a large scale. Large, mechanical rotary boring machines are used for most tunnels today. However, some of these machines build the tunnel wall as they bore along.

 

A rotating bore churns soil up, soil from the front, and pushes it against the sides of the tunnel or spits it out behind. This equipment needs regular maintenance and is expensive to operate.

Earthgrid is trying to bring down the cost and time needed to install this type of large-scale infrastructure.

How are they trying to do it?

Earthgrid is attempting to create these nationwide underground tunnels using a plasma boring robot.

The concept of thermal drilling is not exactly new. The idea is that you blast the toughest underground rocks with such extreme heat that they blow apart or vaporize - a process called spallation. 

Using this technique, the drilling machine never directly contacts the rock. This speeds up the process and limits equipment wear and tear.

So much so that Eathrid claims it’s up to 98% cheaper and 100x faster. They aim to operate at a rate of $300 per meter (3.3 ft) of the tunnel.

Earthgrid is also not the only player with skin in the game. Another player, Petra, is trying to establish a similar solution with many of the same claims. 

Earthgrid’s project is still in the very early stages. They are still in the process of generating seed funding. Petra is much further along but is following a more conventional approach. Earthgrid is aiming to push the boundaries of thermal drilling bots even further.

Plasma Robot Specs

Earthgrid’s proposed plasma drilling robot has some impressive specs:

  • Multiple (up to 72) 27,000 °C (48,600 °F) plasma torches
  • Mounted on a Rapid Burrowing Robot (RBR)
  • It can dig up to 1,000 meters (0.62 miles) per day
  • Tungsten roller drivetrain with UHTC treads
  • Multiple video cameras with LED lights

When it’s ready, the final system will consist of three separate robots running in a train that goes from smallest to largest. A cabled trolley system will be used to carry debris from the front backward outside the tunnel.

The plasma torches are arranged in a Fibonacci pattern on forward-facing plates. This ensures that it covers everything in front of it.

Some critics think that there is no way that vaporizing rock would be cheaper than good old drilling and shovels. Time will tell but we may end up using a combination of both mechanical and plasma boring technologies.

Thinking calls for facts, and facts are found by digging - Henry Ford

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