Science, AI help unlock green energy in northwest New Mexico

LANL researchers help Navajo entrepreneurs

August 10, 2021

Nmsba Navajo Sm Opt
LANL's New Mexico Small Business Assistance program is helping Navajo-owned small business Tosidoh investigate the geothermal resources and the aquifer below Tohatchi.

A group of Navajo entrepreneurs in Tohatchi have had their eye on the business potential of an oil-exploration well drilled in the 1950s, but they’re not considering fossil fuel production. The well produces water heated by hidden deep geologic processes. As a geothermal energy source, the well might help power the group’s plans to create a long-term food-water-energy nexus on the Navajo Nation, stimulating the local economy while helping New Mexico transition to a carbon-free energy portfolio.

The entrepreneurs envision the natural hot water and the cooler water resources nearby for filling hot tubs for a spa resort, heating and irrigating greenhouses for food production, and providing water and energy in tandem with solar energy to produce cutting-edge “green” hydrogen. The project lines up with increased interest from national and state leaders and private industry, who want to develop hydrogen as a clean, carbon-free and plentiful energy source for the transportation industry and as a re-electrification energy strategy.

But the team at Tosidoh LLC, a Navajo-owned, veteran-owned private small business operating and managing on the Navajo Nation, needed to know more about the geothermal resource. Tosidoh had many years of data from 43 wells in the area, recording essential information like the water’s temperature, acidity and mineral content. But how much water was hidden underground, and how hot was it?

That’s a science question, and like many small New Mexico businesses, particularly in rural areas, Tosidoh didn’t have ready access to the expertise or technology needed to analyze all that information, so it turned to Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Through an agreement under the New Mexico Small Business Assistance program at LANL, Tosidoh engaged with lab scientists to investigate the geothermal resources and the aquifer below Tohatchi. Tosidoh asked for help understanding what forces were heating the water and what kind of geothermal technology was appropriate. Could the hot water be used for producing green hydrogen from water through electrolysis, for heating buildings and for growing crops in a greenhouse system? They also wanted to know how extensive the underground reservoir was, how much water it contained, and whether they could sustainably pump it to support the proposed commercial enterprises.

Los Alamos had the expertise to help answer all these questions, and the NMSBA program provided a no-cost vehicle to engage that expertise. Now in its 20th year, NMSBA has connected a few thousand small businesses across New Mexico to technical experts and technology at Los Alamos, Sandia National Laboratories, the New Mexico Manufacturing Extension Partnership, University of New Mexico, New Mexico State University and New Mexico Tech.

> This story first appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican.