Tech staff search for geothermal energy potential
Staff from the New Mexico Bureau of Teology and Mineral Resources and professors in the Earth and Environmental Science Department at New Mexico Tech are in search of geothermal energy.
Geothermal energy is found below the Earth's surface and can be used for electricity and heat. The partners are going out in the field to wells, and doing field research involving exploring new resources from previous evaluations, said Field Geologist Shari Kelley.
Other staff members are Dr. Virgil Lueth, senior mineralogist and economic geologist; Mark Person, professor of hydrology; and Ron Broadhead, who is extracting temperature data from well logs. Also, associate professor of geology Dana Scholle is taking care of porosity data, and geological librarian Dr. Maureen Wilks is a database expert who will categorize ages of rocks for geothermal potential, Kelley said.
Together, they are defining New Mexico resources for the first time in 20 years, she said.
"There could be more geothermal use in New Mexico," Lueth said. "We need to make people more aware of geothermal potential. It's a new resource and people can find it more useful."
Kelley and graduate student Zeke Salaz, with the Jemez Pueblo community, along with four scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratories, are working on $5 million dollar geothermal grant for the Jemez Pueblo. In December, they will drill into a well to conduct an interpretation of surveys, Kelley said. They will conduct a seismic survey, and gather info what they think is the best place to drill. If the water in the well is not 150C, it will be used for greenhouses in Jemez Pueblo. If higher than 150C, it will be used for electricity, she said. The greenhouse will be beneficial to the Jemez Pueblo community because they can be productive all-year-round, Kelley said.
"It (geothermal energy) will decrease the demand for petroleum based energy," Kelley said.
There is also a current geothermal grant that will go to the bureau. The grant will be $600,000, and the economic benefit will be funded for $200,000 for Lueth to collect age data — the grant will also fund the staff members and graduate students.
Lueth is building database to find resources that have been overlooked in previous assessments, she said. His work is to see how long geothermal systems will last, Kelley said. The objective of the geothermal grant is an update for the geothermal assessment for New Mexico. This is a renewed effort for wells that have been drilled that haven't been evaluated, she said. The anticipated date for the conclusion of this grant will be next summer.
"It (geothermal energy) will decrease the demand for petroleum-based energy," Kelley said.
Graduate students Jessie Hubbling, Emily Wooten, Trevor Schlossmagly, and undergraduate student David Butler are also working with the staff for geothermal projects. Graduate students Matthew Sophy and Mussie Tewalde, from Eritrea, Africa, are involved with collecting new data. Lueth, who is using a dating technique called Argon dating, is applying this technique to minerals that aren't dated but grow in a geothermal environment, Kelley said. Lueth dates when these deposits were in place and how long the geothermal systems are active. The overall system may be over a million years old and Lueth is trying to find answers how long geothermal systems last.
The team is identifying places in New Mexico where there have been water wells drilled within the last 20 years, and talking to owners to update reports, Kelley said. On a property in Truth or Consequences, graduate student Jeffrey Peppin and Kelley are measuring temperatures and water levels in wells to see if there have been any changes from a survey that was done in 1941. They approach owners on a property to measure and test existing water in their wells. Usually the owners encourage the testing, she said. The TorC owners reported there was a drop in flow with the temperature. Person, Kelley and Peppin are testing the water temperature and checking water levels, drilling into the well and analyzing their data. Working with ranchers and inspecting wells with hot water is a good sign, Kelley said. The water in the well needs to be warm or hot in order to generate electricity.
The temperature device Kelley uses for testing for geothermal energy is called a thermistor, which measures electrical resistance recorded on a computer and a translation of temperature to make plots, she said.
Finding geothermal energy takes place in various areas all around New Mexico. The group drilled a new well in Tres Piedras near Taos. They have also measured wells in TorC for sustainablilty.
Geothermal energy can be used for greenhouses, to heat homes and for fish farming, Kelley said. The process of finding geothermal energy includes taking temperature measurements of depth in areas of water wells that haven't been measured before, Kelley said.
Warm water was reported in San Acacia.
There is a geothermal well on the Tech campus funded by the Department of Energy. In 2009, Person was on site when the well was drilled. It was 1,500 feet deep and the temperature was 43 degrees Celsius, but the water is not hot enough to heat the campus. Kelley said. Currently, the well is used to test equipment to see if they work properly, and Tech students also use the well to practice taking temperatures to learn how to run equipment, she said.
"You have to go out into the field and talk with people," Kelley said.
According to Kelley, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology issued a major report in 2006 about geothermal potential in the United States, to drill holes to penetrate into hard rocks. MIT recognized that the the United States has geothermal potential and the western part of the country is tetonically active, and the eastern is tetonically inactive, she said.
In 2008, when the economy dropped, the Department of Energy said there were ways to stimulate energy from the Earth's surface, Kelley said. There is a group in the U.S. from the American Association of State Geologists who wrote a proposal to the Department of Energy. The grant was funded and designed to provide funding where all 50 states have geologic surveys and have gathered data into an organized national database which will be available to the public.
"Geothermal energy is renewable and if you manage the water outflow and inflow carefully you can have a resource that will last for decades," Kelley said.