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Kárahnjúkar Hydropower Project

  • Machine Type Main Beam TBM
  • Diameters 7.63 m (25 ft), 2 x 7.23 m (23.7 ft)
  • Tunnel Type Hydroelectric
  • Tunnel Lengths 14.3 km (8.8 mi), 14.1 km (8.7 mi), 11.4 km (7 mi), 8.7 km (5.4 mi)
  • Owner Landsvirkjun
  • Contractor Impregilo S.p.A. (Iceland branch)
  • Location Fljótsdalur Valley, Iceland

Project Overview

The Kárahnjúkar Hydropower Project created the Kárahnjúkar Power Plant to provide 4600 GWh of electricity annually to a nearby aluminum smelting plant. Three dams feed the main Hálslón reservoir and several other dams join the outflow in a combined headrace tunnel to an intake. The intake water travels to the powerhouse through two steel-line vertical shafts and exits from a tailrace tunnel that empties into the Jökulsá i Fljótsdal River.

Project owner Landsvirkjun awarded the construction contract for the hydroelectric project to the Iceland branch of Impregilo S.p.A. The contractor awarded the contract to Robbins for three Robbins Main Beam High Performance TBMs for three lengths of tunnel.


The machines began boring between April and September 2004 in basalt, moberg, and pillow lava geology up to 300 Mpa (44,000 psi) UCS. A number of fault lines and water inflows were encountered during boring, though the machines made good progress.


All three TBMs were the first ever machines designed with back-loading cutterheadsfor 19” cutters. The successful design increased cutter life and reduced the time needed for cutter changes. All of the TBMs were equipped with probe and roof drilling capabilities and were specially designed for the ground conditions. The cutterhead designs featured rock deflectors to protect the cutterhead from fractured and blocky ground, as well as abrasion-resistant wear plates and carbide buttons to bore in abrasive rock.

Tunnel Excavation

Main Headrace Tunnel
By June 2006 the machines had made good progress despite difficult geologic conditions in the tunnels. TBM 1 finished its drive on September 9, 2006 after achieving impressive advance rates with a best month of 864.6 m (2,755 ft) in March 2006. On the same day, TBM 2 tied a world record in its size class after excavating 92 m (302 ft) in 24 hours. The TBM tied the record with another TBM that bored on the Epping to Chatswood Rail Link. TBM 2 finished its initial drive in Fall 2006 and was then disassembled and transported to bore an additional 8.7 km (5.4 mi) long section of the Jökulsá Diversion Tunnel in 2007. The third TBM finished its main tunnel drive on December 5, 2006. All of the TBMs achieved impressive monthly advance rates despite troublesome rock conditions.

Jökulsá Diversion Tunnel
The Jökulsá Diversion Tunnel adds to the water supply capacity of the powerhouse by connecting the Ufsarlón Reservoir to the main headrace tunnel. Work began in April 2007 and finished in April 2008. During the 8.7 km (5.4 mi) drive, TBM 2 continuously turned in record-breaking performances, beating its own record in June 2007 by excavating 106.1 m (348.2 ft) in 24 hours.

In August 2007, the machine achieved the feat again by excavating 115.7 m (380 ft) in 24 hours and 428.8 m (1,400 ft) in one week. The machine excavated at consistently high rates and finished its bore on schedule.