Monday, 26 de September

After defending his thesis on geological storage of CO2 and its possible use in geothermal, Juvenal Letelier will specialize in reservoir modeling at the Geothermal Institute of the University of Auckland.

The protests against HidroAysén on 2011 – a hydroelectricity project plant in Patagonia – inspired the thesis project of Juvenal Letelier, who now is part of the team of CEGA’s postdoctoral fellows. That year, while he attended the PhD program in engineering science at Universidad de Chile, he chose to focus his thesis project on other ways to generate energy. He recalls:” I wondered why to do macro projects if smaller proposals can produce energy and also contribute to the environment. In that line of thought, one of the most striking ideas that has been used to date has to do with the injection of CO2 in the ground, a process that has a history of more than 20 years in other parts of the world”.

But what interested Juvenal went beyond underground carbon dioxide storage. The true focus of his research was in elucidating how to use this gas to produce a clean energy such as geothermal energy.

Although there is still much to investigate about the use of CO2 in Chilean geothermal systems, from its research Juvenal displays possible incorporation of it on a smaller scale: “as there are no signs of large areas of sedimentary basins in Chile, where we can store CO2 and it stays there for many years, we have to think in smaller reservoirs and, in that sense, is likely to do this because there are reservoirs in the North, and in addition there is a lack of surface water. Therefore as it is the source of emission of CO2 that is the large-scale mining and the thermoelectric plants, it might be possible to capture it, transport and inject it into the reservoirs. But doing this requires several more years of scientific studies”.

After defending his PhD thesis, Juvenal began a six month internship in the Geothermal Institute of The University of Auckland. There, he will work on modeling of reservoirs with John O’Sullivan’s research team, an expert on the issue.

The experience gained in New Zealand will be put into practice in a new challenge: study El Tatio geothermal system to contribute to the local development of reservoir modeling methodologies for the Andes: “we have no intention of exploiting El Tatio geysers. What we want is to understand it, because the protection of the place can be achieved through understanding. In addition, the information collected will be made available in areas that are exploitable, such as for example Cerro Pabellón”.

He also says that the interesting thing about this study also resides in the contributions that will be made from the lab: “geothermal energy can not only be understood with field measurements, is also necessary to make it through a consistent model of laboratory that will allow to understand what a reservoir is. Because in the end you cannot know a reservoir at a glance, we have to use geophysical techniques which are very expensive, therefore laboratory work is of fundamental importance”.

Towards this, Juvenal stresses the need to develop laboratory work that manages to bring together the efforts not only of geologists, but also engineers, physicists, and mathematicians: “the goal is to try to make a multidisciplinary work based on clean and renewable energy such as geothermal. In that sense, El Tatio is an emblem, because it has been studied for many years and those same people have the intention to continue their research, but this time in a more quantitative way, taking steps toward the numerical modeling of this.”