50th Anniversary Contest Honorable Mention -- Sergio Villeda

Read one of the Honorable Mentions in our 50th Anniversary Storytelling Contest below.
Scientists projects that the U.S. geothermal energy will contribute to 10% of the country’s energy by 2050.
What drives your geothermal career?

Who does not remember vacations as a child? Those visits to the grandparents’ house, the countryside and being in a new place, seeing the rivers and mountains and asking questions to explain those beauties. Evidently, curiosity and the search for answers is present since childhood, we are born being scientists. This is how I felt when I visited the town of my grandparents in Coahuila, Mexico, where in addition to the previous beauties, there is a hot spring.

This spring is an attraction especially during winter, when the cold fronts arrive, and it is pleasant to take a hot bath in these waters. As a child I had questions about this amazing phenomenon, why does water flow from the ground? and secondly, why is it so hot? Older people at that time told me that there was a volcano below that heated the water and that this volcano would one day erupt, leading to a possible “Mexican Pompeii”. I accepted those answers, but I was still intrigued by the treasures that lay below. The answers and the explanation of the origin of the spring would come to me some years later.

Water sampling at the main thermal spring of the zone.
Water sampling at the main thermal spring of the zone. At the back, the sauna rooms fed by the spring
where local people take baths.

Time passed and I was about to decide my degree. The fight against climate change echoed in my mind and I decided to choose a career where I could contribute to the fight. This is how I entered the engineering career in renewable energies where, in addition to other important energies, I was able to learn more about geothermal energy. There, I was able to find the balance between the things that I am passionate about. During my geothermal courses, I learned the techniques to be able to study a geothermal resource and, as a revelation, I remembered the spring in the town of my grandparents. It seemed that my curiosity as a child and my passion for geothermal energy had a common point, with which I could answer questions about the origin of the spring and share these answers with the people of the town, also demolishing the idea of that “Mexican Pompeii”. To answer these questions and be able to study the resource, prospecting work would have to be carried out. Now I had a topic for my thesis, and I returned to what I asked myself years ago.

Abandoned natural gas well discharging water
Abandoned natural gas well discharging water in the zone at 149 °F. Several wells have been drilled
within the zone, offering opportunities to reutilize its infrastructure.

The work for my thesis began, and I collected information on the area, including studies of non-renewable resources such as natural gas and coal, which facilitated the study because I was able to access the drilling information of several wells near the spring, including some that are already abandoned. The funniest part: doing the field work. I have always thought that the search for a geothermal resource is a puzzle, a conundrum, so for my work, I had to look for those pieces.

I visited and sampled more springs and not only that, but thanks to the local people some natural gas wells with thermal discharge could be identified and were also sampled. The puzzle seemed to get more interesting and with more pieces. Samples were analyzed and I began the analysis of all the information collected, the pieces of the puzzle began to fit, in which the idea of a volcano now seemed to be just a story to scare children. It turned out that the fluids had a deep circulation and that some gas wells were drilled near the regional aquifer which, due to the passage of time and perhaps a mistake, had this thermal water springing up. Finally, I was able to explain what was happening with the spring and demonstrate the existence of a geothermal resource in the place I visited as a child.

Mineral precipitate sampling
Mineral precipitate sampling at the lagoon created by the water discharge from the natural gas well.

To me, finding these conclusions was inspiring and revealing. I was finally applying my knowledge of geothermal in the place that is part of my identity, however, new questions arose in the context of exploiting these resources, so there is still work to be done. I firmly believe that geothermal energy can trigger economic and social development for the communities and people who live near these resources, which are part of their identity and history, offering development opportunities, whether economic, social, or environmental. To achieve this, people must be involved from the conception of a project, according to their experiences and desires. Today I am excited and committed to contributing to achieving these goals, where geothermal energy plays an important role in the energy transition and where it contributes to the development of resilient and local energy systems. We will continue in the area and where these principles and objectives can be put into action, including those places where there is someone, child, or adult, who asks questions about a hot spring.

Thank you to the sponsors of our 50th Anniversary Contest!

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