LARDERELLO | TUSCANY
Larderello is an industrial village in a geologically active area of the Val di Cecina of southern Tuscany which is famous for its geothermal activity. The region has been known since ancient times for its volcanic characteristics and its exceptionally hot geothermal springs. The Romans constructed baths to make use of its sulphur springs. The Larderello area was known simply as Montecerboli or Valle del Diavolo (Devil's Valley) until the mid-19 C, when it became one of the first places in the world where geothermal energy was exploited to support industry. In 1827, François de Larderel, a Frenchman, invented a method of extracting boric acid from the volcanic mud by using geothermal steam to heat cauldrons for the separation process. Leopold II, Grand Duke of Tuscany was an enthusiastic supporter of de Lardarel's scheme and awarded him the title of Count of Montecerboli a decade later. A village near Montecerboli and named Larderello in honour of de Larderel's work, was founded to house the workers in the boric acid production facilities.
The region was the site of a pioneering experiment in the production of energy from geothermal sources in 1904, when five light bulbs were lit using electricity produced by turbines driven by steam emerging from vents in the ground - the first ever practical demonstration of geothermal power. In 1911, the world's first geothermal power plant was built in Montecerboli. It was the world's only industrial producer of geothermal electricity until 1958, when New Zealand built a plant of its own. Larderello now produces 25% of Tuscany's electricity requirements. The geology of Montecerboli makes it uniquely conducive to geothermal power production, with hot granite rocks lying unusually close to the surface, producing steam as hot as 220° C (396° F). The region has experienced occasional phreatic volcanic eruptions, caused by explosive outbursts of steam trapped below the surface. It possesses about a dozen explosion craters 30-250 m in diameter. The largest is the Lago Vecchienna crater, now filled by a lake, which last erupted around 1282.