The Popocatepetl volcano to the rescue of Mexico City

By Fernanda Duque Hernández

Mexico could be a pioneer in the use of volcanic energy

Every second, around 50 thousand liters of water are drawn out from the subsoil of Mexico City, which has caused the Mexican capital to sink at a steady rate, of roughly 2.5 centimeters per month. This phenomenon –even though man induced- has provoked sudden collapses and cracks on the ground across the area. As an alternative solution, Manuel Frías, an industrial engineer who graduated from Mexico’s National Polytechnic Institute (IPN), suggested the use of an avant-garde project, whilst taking advantage of the Popocatépetl’s vapor energy.

Frías’ plan consists on targeting two major problems: first, to provide drinking water to more than 20 million inhabitants and second, offer an alternative and sustainable source of energy to the city.

popocatepetlOriginal Image: “El Popocatépetl” by: Arturo Alfaro Galán CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 vía Flickr

To guarantee the provision of the vital liquid, the first stage of the project is the construction of the ‘Amacuzac-Valle de México’ dam on the Chuazingo River, where four pumping stations will be set, in order to distribute the water to Mexico City using an aqueduct.

The dam will stop the overexploitation of the Mexican Valley aquifer, because due to weather conditions of constant rain over the Chuazingo River, the level of the dam could be constantly recharged.

However, the dam will also need a tremendous source of electric energy for the pumping stations, so the Mexican engineer considers the execution of the Popocatépetl Geothermal Project (PGT) Mexico-Puebla; this consist on capturing high pressure steam from beneath the volcano to transform it into electricity.

popocatepetl ciudad mexicoImagen Original: “Ciudad de México - México 140927 173236 03763 TX30-Editar LR” de: Lucy Nieto CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 vía Flickr

Three turbo generators –set 4 kilometers away from the volcano crater- will make this work, transforming vapor into 7.440 gigawatt-hour every year. The steam will be captured through directional pipes -100 meters in vertical and then horizontal- avoiding the use of mineral oils and even better without polluting emissions.

Frías explains that “The system used by conventional power plants, is based on oil or gas transformed into steam which activates their turbines… It’s as if we drew hydrocarbons but instead we’re drawing water vapor”.

It will take an estimated initial investment of 200 million dollars for the construction of the turbines; while the dam would require between 2 and 3 billion dollars. However, the development of this project could replace the use of 12.4 million barrels of oil, 1.715 million cubic meters of natural gas or 3.72 tons of coal.

The development of this project would place Mexico as a pioneer in the use of volcanic energy, as Mexico’s geothermal energy potential has been rated between the fourth and sixth place of the world.

“Let's take advantage of it with intelligence and courage to save the main political, economic and social center of the nation”.

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