Energize New Mexico utilizes an "all of the above" approach to energy research to ensure multiple pathways to a sustainable energy future for New Mexico. The science & research components work toward achieving specific strategic goals based on sustainability, efficiency, and resource utilization, while minimizing risk to water and negative impacts on the environment.
Looking for new fuel alternatives to oil while providing additional co-benefits
The Bioalgal Energy team has made major strides in optimizing the productivity of algae through treatment of wastewater. In Year 4, the team at New Mexico State University demonstrated that they can achieve federal discharge standards in 3–4 days for traditional pollutants. These results are potentially transformative in the industry, converting carbon and other nutrients in the wastewater into biomass that can be recovered and processed into bio-crude oil using hydrothermal liquefaction.
The Bioalgal Energy team is truly inter-institutional, with UNM and NMSU working together hand-in-hand with national labs to measure the composition and function of algal communities in extreme environments. In addition, outdoor growth experiments are improving the growth of algae in various conditions by helping to identify ideal mixes of algal species that produce stable colonies with high output of biomass.
Taking advantage of New Mexico's 300+ days of sunshine per year
In order to create more efficient solar panels, one must first understand processes and materials that contribute to the absorption of light and maintaining energy levels. Researchers on the Solar Energy team have turned to materials science and have increased their understanding of these processes at the molecular level, called excited state lifetimes. This has the potential to provide long-lasting, high-energy processes that boost the efficiency of solar cells for consumers.
The team also continued to refine their work on enhancement of solar fuels by using Zinc sulfide to stimulate the conversion of carbon dioxide (CO2) to methanol.
Experimenting with produced water, membranes, and osmosis for more efficient extraction techniques
Water scarcity is a real issue in New Mexico, especially when it comes to agriculture. The state has an abundant supply of groundwater heated by geothermal activity, but much of that water is unusable due to its high mineral content and brackish qualities. The Osmotic Power Development team has partnered with Masson Greenhouse, a local geothermal greenhouse, to work toward meeting its demand for irrigation at a lower cost while conserving existing freshwater resources. In order to do this, the team has spent the last 4 years working on filtration through membrane fabrication, and designing a geothermal membrane distillation (GMD) system to clean the brackish water for reuse.
The team’s membrane characterization process is unique and ahead of its time; membrane desalinization will become increasingly popular in New Mexico as water becomes more scarce, and the groundwork provided by the team will provide a competitive edge for the state. Near the end of Year 4, the team deployed the GMD system at Masson Greenhouse for field evaluations. Results are expected in Year 5.
Crossing cultural borders to protect people and the environment
In the mid-20th Century, New Mexico was one of the largest national suppliers of uranium. These mines now lie abandoned, but uranium contamination still poses a risk to the surrounding areas, including those who live on Native American land where several legacy mines are located. The NM EPSCoR Uranium Transport & Site Remediation team understands that in order to mitigate and prevent contamination, we must first understand how uranium molecules interact with and move in soil, water, and biological systems.
In Year 4, the team continued their strong partnerships and collaborations with Native tribes in Northwest New Mexico to gain additional insights. By using a type of computer model that can predict chemical reactions inside flowing liquids, the team was able to determine how long it takes uranium molecules to break down in water, and that the release of uranium is affected by water pH and the crystalline structure of the molecules themselves. This breakthrough is useful for determining where contamination may be harmful for ecosystem and human health.
Other chemical analyses were conducted on areas in the Grants Mining Belt, with collaboration with the New Mexico Environment Department, to track uranium contamination in groundwater. Their work can now be used to track contamination sites across the country.
Mapping geothermal systems & exploring the potential of geothermal energy in
The Geothermal Energy Resources team continued to search for and map known and blind geothermal systems around the state using EPSCoR-funded magnetotelluric (MT) surveys and traits and characteristics of the change (flux) in the release of CO2 from under the ground. The team has discovered extensions of the Valles Caldera (a supervolcano akin to Yellowstone) geothermal system in both northeastern and southwestern directions using geochemical tracers and characterization of CO2 flux. The team also continues its work with the Osmotic Power team and their partnership with Masson Greenhouse to provide geothermal power and water.
MT survey work has led to the discovery of a new hydrogeothermal application for MT research around the world: MT survey results can detect permeability variations within deep hydrothermal systems. Under certain conditions, MT models can predict salinity, temperature, and resistivity patterns for different types of permeable rock.
Using powerful and integrative modeling tools to determine the best options for energy development in New Mexico
Energy is crucial to the economy in New Mexico, but energy development is often constrained by environmental impacts and water resources. In order to determine the best options for an energy-sustainable future in New Mexico, the Social & Natural Science Nexus team works on innovative ways of using a system dynamics (SD) modeling framework to increase understanding of the behavior of complex systems over time—like the interaction of water, the environment, energy, and people. In Year 4, the team has advanced work on socio-economic budgets incorporating energy models, developed data-gathering mechanisms for human perceptions, and continued advancement on the statewide water budget.
Despite saving energy and time by conventionally disposing of produced water, oil and gas drilling companies still face energy hurtles when freshwater sources are limited and companies must transport water to and from drilling sites. Therefore, early results with water modeling indicate that both treatment and reuse of produced water in oil and gas operations (hydraulic fracturing in particular) may become more prevalent.
Also in Year 4, the team analyzed attitudes and preference surveys to further understand how New Mexicans feel about energy. 51% of respondents believe natural gas is a long-term energy solution, and 71% agree that climate change is happening, and caused by humans. These results and more will be incorporated into the final, overarching SD model.
Through Energize New Mexico, NM EPSCoR is making it easier to discover, acquire, and use data
CIn Year 4, the Cyberinfrastructure (CI) team worked with all research teams to integrate research data and associated metadata into the publicly-accessible NM EPSCoR data portal. Over 600 new datasets were added in Year 4 alone, and the data now live in the portal represent all research areas. CI graduate students created 12 help videos that are linked on every data entry page so that researchers can easily find answers to questions about uploading their data. These graduate students also created a Metadata Field Guide to help researchers obtain critical metadata while out in the field. The Guides are equipped with waterproof pages and contain valuable information to help researchers and students identify the metadata they need to collect.
NM EPSCoR is now hosting and providing ongoing support for the New Mexico Bureau of Geology & Mineral Resources’ geothermal database, online mapping application, and data-access interface. Geothermal datasets provided by Energize New Mexico researchers are being integrated into the system as they are provided. The system provides access to published data for direct access and use for statistical analysis, modeling applications, web mapping systems, and desktop and web-based data visualization tools.