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
Bioalgal energy development can play a key role in creating a future that better utilizes alternative fuels and resources. One way that algae will become competitive as a fuel source is to extract co-benefits, such as water treatment, in addition to creating fuel feedstock. The NMSU algal wastewater treatment testbed is pursuing this end at the Las Cruces Wastewater Treatment plant. It is currently the only plant in the country that is treating primary effluent under field conditions to the discharge standards for biological oxygen demand, nitrogen, and phosphorous. In Year 5, Galdieria sulphuraria cultures were fed primary-settle wastewater and not only achieved discharge standards for the traditional pollutants in a single step, but reduced bacterial water quality as compared to the existing traditional treatment system.
In a collaboration with SFCC, UNM has been assessing the suitability of high salinity water produced from fracking operations for algae growth, including a mixed algal culture enriched on fracking water and a pure culture of Duniliella salina. The team has grown both sources on real fracking water and synthetic media over a range of salinities to determine salinity effects on growth rates, lipid productivity and composition, and community composition (for the mixed culture). Use of fracking water would reduce the need for freshwater for algae cultivation, and also has applications for treatment of these abundant oil and gas wastewaters.
Taking advantage of New Mexico's 300+ days of sunshine per year
The Energize New Mexico Solar Energy team formed to address challenges involved in making solar energy a sustainable and practical investment. The team focused on the efficiency and effectiveness of solar cells, and the feasibility of alternatives to fossil fuels by using solar power to convert carbon dioxide into methanol.
Polymer cells have the potential to change commerical solar panels in the future because they are more affordable, and can be made to fit any shape, but their efficiency and resiliency must be improved before they can become commercially viable. Equipment purchased through NM EPSCoR by the UNM team at the Center for High Tech Materials measures photoluminescence of polymer solar cells, and researchers in the Chemistry Department continue their work on improving the efficiency of polymer solar cells. In addition, researchers on the NMSU 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.
As the most abundant greenhouse gas, efforts at NM Tech and NMSU focused on conversion of CO2 to value-added chemicals or automotive fuels such as formate or methanol. In Year 5 at NM Tech, silver nanoparticle-copper oxide nanocomposites (Ag/Cu2O) were characterized for the first time as a useful catalyst for converting bicarbonate to formate.
Experimenting with produced water, membranes, and osmosis for more efficient extraction techniques
The Osmotic Power Development team is housed at NM Tech in Socorro, and a team of undergraduate and graduate students is led by Dr. Frank Huang of the Chemistry department. As part of the Energize New Mexico project, the Osmotic Power Development team developed from scratch a geothermal membrane distillation system that has the potential to clean brackish geothermal waters to be used for irrigation. The success of the system allowed the team to bridge the gap between real-world applications and the lab by installing the system in a research trailer at a local geothermal greenhouse north of Las Cruces, Masson Farms of New Mexico.
The team’s membrane characterization process is revolutionary; membrane desalinization will become increasingly popular in New Mexico as water becomes scarce. Results are promising, and the team intends to continue their work by optimizing the membrane fabrication process to improve performance for commercialization. Water scarcity is an issue in the desert Southwest, and this system may allow for industries that rely on irrigation or agriculture to use brackish, abundant sources of water rather than freshwater sources such as groundwater that communities rely on. Membrane distillation of this type may also help local businesses such as Masson remain competitive in a changing economic and environmental climate.
Crossing cultural borders to protect people and the environment
Through research over the last five years, the team at UNM discovered that the dissolution of Uranium and Vanadium (U-V)-bearing minerals similar to carnotite is a key process affecting the transport of U and V from Uranium mine wastes in the Navajo Nation. Results of this study were published by Sumant Avasarala in Environmental Science & Technology.
The team at NM Tech has tackled understanding the movement of uranium through different pathways. Research shows compelling results that suggest increasingly acidic and basic conditions promote uranium leaching from mine waste. Liliya Frolova submitted a paper to the Journal of Hazardous Materials with co-authors that include students Samantha Saville and Chase Kicker. The paper is based on some of the findings that supported Frolova’s uranium filter patent application—which was published publicly on May 2017—and is currently under review.
Mapping geothermal systems & exploring the potential of geothermal energy in
The Geothermal team continued their statewide collaborative efforts for the project on geothermal sites and prospects in Year 5 through novel approaches and collaboration. South of Jemez Pueblo in San Ysidro, the topography is challenging, so the team combined magnetotelluric (MT) and electromagnetic surveys by the NM Tech team with geochemical data previously collected by the UNM team to begin to reveal and map the geothermal systems of the area, all the way down to the mantle. This research also resulted in a successful IWG proposal to plan further research activities. The UNM team also completed a report and final presentation on the the dramatic degradation of surface water quality by geothermal inputs, especially at times of low river stage to landowners and stakeholders in the Rio Ojo watershed.
Another surprising development in 2017 was a meeting set up by geothermal experts from LANL and a company from Sweden who are pioneering new technologies to generate electricity in combination with small direct-use geothermal sites that have great potential in New Mexico. A successful pilot follow-up is now ongoing between the Swedish company, SFCC, and the Jemez Pueblo surrounding the Indian Well site that may lead to both a geothermal greenhouse and accompanying modest power generation.
Using powerful and integrative modeling tools to determine the best options for energy development in New Mexico
Substantial progress has been made on the completion of components for the System Dynamics (SD) model in Year 5, with module additions in the last year including: energy trade-offs for water associated with energy production, siting criteria for new renewable generation installation in the state, trade-off analysis between generation types by location that are both economic and environmental, and energy emissions health tradeoffs.
The New Mexico Dynamic State Water Budget (NMDSWB) SD model continues to be refined and expanded. In Year 5, the initial future scenario portion of the model was completed, and a link (currently private) to the NMDSWB online visualization tool is up and running. Currently, the NMDSWB incorporates three future scenario options: climate models, water use efficiency, and population growth rates. The implementation of future scenario options within the model allows users to forecast New Mexico’s water budget for a range of potential scenarios and to compare these future projections to the historical trends.
Through Energize New Mexico, NM EPSCoR is making it easier to discover, acquire, and use data
In the field and in the lab, researchers collect large volumes of data, and NM EPSCoR researchers are no exception. That data needs managing, including tools for sharing, dissemination, and storage. The Energize New Mexico Cyberinfrastructure (CI) team worked with our research teams to integrate research data products and metadata into a publicly-accessible data portal. Over 167 new research datasets were added in Year 5, and the portal currently holds over 894 datasets that represent all Energize New Mexico research areas.
The CI Team made enhancements in automation of data documentation, submission, and review process for new project datasets developed by the research components. This has resulted in a workflow in which any issues identified with submitted datasets and associated metadata are quickly turned around for resolution with the submitting researchers. To enhance discoverability, NM EPSCoR data continues to feed to the DataONE network and transfer all project data to UNM’s long-term institutional data repository (DigitalCommons) for data preservation.