Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Scientists Resume Tapping Into ‘M’ Mountain Reservoir

By John Larson

SOCORRO – Geoscientists at New Mexico Tech are to resume a project that was put on hold in 2006 to tap into a reservoir of hot water deep beneath the base of ‘M’ Mountain.
The project was first funded five years ago.
In 2004, the late Tech geochemistry professor David Norman and geophysics professor Harold J. Tobin were jointly awarded a $503,172 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Geothermal Resource Exploration and Definition (GRED) III program. The purpose was to conduct research and exploratory drilling to accurately evaluate the geothermal potential in the previously designated “Known Geothermal Resource Area,” which surrounds ‘M’ Mountain.
After months of boring several exploratory sites along the base of ‘M’ Mountain, technicians began drilling in earnest Nov. 17, 2006 in a search for hot water.
The drilling operation ran into problems before reaching the 200 foot level in December, 2006, and the scientists spent the next several months solving those problems.
Earth and Environmental Sciences Professor Mark Person, who is leading the operation, said there is conclusive evidence that the project could provide reliable source of geothermal energy – in the form of extremely hot water - that would provide the university with an efficient, inexpensive heating and cooling system.
He said he is looking for water temperatures ranging from 60 to 90 degrees centigrade (140 to 194 degrees Fahrenheit).
“Chemical geothermometers indicate a range of 50 to 113 degrees centigrade [122 to 235 Fahrenheit] at the fifteen hundred foot level,” Person said.
Person is working closely with James C. Witcher of Witcher and Associates, a geothermal consulting firm in Las Cruces.
“Water heated by geothermal waters through a heat exchanger would circulate around campus through a pre-existing hot-water loop, providing space heating for most of the university’s buildings,” Person said. “This would require geothermal waters of at least 150 degree Fahrenheit.”
The super-heated water can be used to power turbines.
A site was chosen above a large fracture on the front of ‘M’ Mountain several hundred feet above Socorro. The light generated by powerful halogen lamps can be seen every night in Socorro as the drilling goes on night and day.
According to a press release, as ground water seeps into the earth on the San Agustin Plains surrounding Magdalena, the water descends as far as three kilometers below the surface – and heating up as it descends. Distinct geologic formations beneath ‘M’ Mountain push the heated water back toward the surface.
“We’re drilling on the bull’s eye of a heat flow anomaly at Woods Tunnel,” Person said in the release. “It’s really exciting. A lot of faculty members are donating some of their time to this project because we believe in helping New Mexico Tech ‘go green.’ Plus, we can save the university – and the state – about $800,000 in cost every year.”
The new federal appropriation will pay for the infrastructure (pipes, pumps and heat exchangers) to transport the hot water 2.1 miles from the base of the mountain to the heat exchanger at Facilities Management.
Person said this phase of the project is exciting; the drilling will answer many questions about the potential for geothermal energy. At 300 feet, the drillers have encountered fractured rock and the well is producing 1,000 gallons per minute. Person said the project’s success depends in large part on finding similarly fractured rock at deeper depths. Fractured rock allows heated water to easily flow to the well consistently over time.
“Fractured rock makes it hard to drill,” Person said. “But it’s what we want to see.”

No comments:

Post a Comment