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Renewable Energy 77 (2015) 423e429

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Geothermal reservoir potential of volcaniclastic settings: The Valley

of Mexico, Central Mexico
Nils Lenhardt*, Annette E. Go
€ tz
Department of Geology, University of Pretoria, Private Bag X20, 0028 Pretoria, South Africa

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: The geothermal potential of the Valley of Mexico has not been addressed in the past, although volca-
Received 24 April 2014 niclastic settings in other parts of the world contain promising target reservoir formations. An outcrop
Accepted 13 December 2014 analogue study of the thermophysical rock properties of the Neogene rocks within the Valley of Mexico
Available online 2 January 2015
was conducted to assess the geothermal potential of this area. Permeability and thermal conductivity are
key parameters in geothermal reservoir characterization and the values gained from outcrop samples
serve as a sufficient database for further assessment. The mainly low permeable lithofacies types may be
operated as stimulated systems, depending on the fracture porosity in the deeper subsurface. In some
Thermophysical rock properties
Renewable energy sources
areas also auto-convective thermal water circulation might be expected and direct heat use without
Valley of Mexico artificial stimulation becomes reasonable. Thermophysical properties of tuffs and siliciclastic rocks
Geothermal energy qualify them as target horizons for future utilization of deep geothermal reservoirs.
Energy storage © 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction installed geothermal capacity (after the U.S. (3098 MW), the
Philippines (1904 MW), and Indonesia (1197 MW); values accord-
In recent years the efficient use of energy resources and energy ing to Bertani [6]).
storage has gained great importance. For the future, increasing The currently four operating geothermal fields in Mexico are
global energy demand strongly relies on renewable energy devel- Cerro Prieto (a geothermally active area intersecting the southern
opment that may reduce the dependence on fossil fuels and its end of the Imperial Fault and the northern end of the Cerro Prieto
related negative effects for the environment. Right now, Mexico is Fault in the Baja California), Las Tres Vírgenes (related to a
still mainly based on fossil-fuelled (hydrocarbons and coal, 68%) complex of volcanoes located in the Mulege  Municipality in the
power plants, and more than one fifth (22%) on hydroelectric Baja California Sur), Los Azufres, and Los Humeros. The project
plants. Geothermal electric capacity represents 2% and wind only Cerritos Colorados, formerly known as La Primavera, has been
0.1% [1]. The rest (1.9%) is represented by nuclear power plants. The scheduled for 2014 [7]. The three latter geothermal fields are all
solar potential for electricity is largely untapped, leaving room for part of the Transmexican Volcanic Belt and are associated to large
great improvements in the future [2]. Furthermore, the develop- calderas [8], which could, in the future, be the source for a lot
ment of so-called hybrid systems combining solar/wind, more energy for Mexico and also the U.S., considering that in
geothermal and biomass energy may be very promising in coun- 2012 already 1,285,959 MWh had been exported to the northern
tries like Mexico but have not been implemented, yet. neighbour [9].
According to the Global Energy Network Institute [3] Mexico has In Mexico, geothermal energy is almost entirely used to produce
an estimated geothermal electricity potential of at least 8000 MWe, electricity. The direct use of Mexican geothermal energy is still
second in the world only to Indonesia. In reality, Mexico is not that under development and currently remains restricted to bathing
far, yet, in harvesting this geothermal potential to the maximum. and swimming facilities. The use of geothermal heat pumps is
Nevertheless, with 980 MW [4] (887 MW according to the World minimal, and underdeveloped with no information available [10].
Energy Council [5]), the country is ranked fourth in terms of global Furthermore, to date, no useful information is available on the
geothermal gradients of the Mexican deep sedimentary basins or
graben settings, such as the Valley of Mexico [11e13], and its
* Corresponding author. Tel.: þ27 (0)12 420 3310; fax: þ27 (0)12 362 5219. possible potential for a direct use of geothermal energy. Never-
E-mail address: (N. Lenhardt). theless, according to the geothermal map of North America [14], the
0960-1481/© 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
424 €tz / Renewable Energy 77 (2015) 423e429
N. Lenhardt, A.E. Go

area of the Valley of Mexico shows an intermediate terrestrial heat Finally, in Rumania and Hungary, where the geothermal po-
flow of 80e84 mW/m2 in comparison to areas such as Cerro Prieto tential is currently assessed [41], groundwater temperatures of
(~100 mW/m2) [15] and Las Tres Vírgenes (117 mW/m2) [16], 60e120  C at 800e3500 m [42] (heat flow 37e83 mW/m2 [43]),
located at thermal anomalies. Additionally, the heat flow values of and 150e200  C at a depth of 3000e4000 m [44] (heat flow
Los Azufres (84 mW/m2) [17] and Los Humeros (85 mW/m2) [17], 90e100 mW/m2 [45]) are measured, respectively.
show that the values of the Valley of Mexico are within a useable The Valley of Mexico contains most of the Mexico City Metro-
range. politan Area, as well as parts of the State of Mexico, Hidalgo, Tlax-
In addition to the direct use of the Mexican deep sedimentary cala and Puebla, and can be subdivided into four sub-basins [46,47].
basins for geothermal energy, they could be used to overcome Below a 30 to >200 m thick cover of Quaternary to recent vol-
another problem of renewable energy sources. One of the biggest canic and lake deposits [11,48,49] that outcrop extensively on the
problems holding back renewable energy is that energy sources plain, Neogene volcanic rocks intercalated with siliciclastic and
such as wind and the sun, are not constant, and therefore do not volcaniclastic rocks attain a thickness of up to 4000 m [11,12,50] on
allow a steady output. The best way of overcoming this problem is top of the basement. These units are extensively fractured and
by developing energy storage systems that can store excess energy crossed by fault (graben) systems that resulted from tensional
produced during times of high output, and release it again when it regional forces [51]. They partially cover an excess thickness of
is needed during times of low output. Energy from both sources, 1000 m of limestone strata of Cretaceous age.
wind and sun, can be stored in porous rocks deep underground for A reasonable amount of data is available only on the hydraulic
later use. Wind energy e which is often produced at night when properties of the PlioceneeQuaternary and QuaternaryeRecent
winds are strong and energy demand is low e can be stored by deposits. The properties of the deeper aquifer units, however, are
compressed air energy storage (CAES) [18,19]. not known [11]. However, several hundreds of litres of water per
Underground thermal energy storage (UTES) [20e23] is a sys- second that are continuously extracted from the Mid Tertiary vol-
tem that uses inter-seasonal heat storage, storing excess heat (e.g. canics for the dewatering of a mine [52] in a mine district in the
from solar collectors) for use in winter heating, and the cooling northern part of the Basin of Mexico, i.e. in Pachuca (Hidalgo State),
potential from winter for cooling in summer [24]. UTES could are evidence for an effective reservoir and aquifer [53]. Further-
contribute significantly to meeting society's need for heating and more, Carrillo-Rivera et al. [54] interpreted the hydraulic conduc-
cooling and may be implemented in rocks or soil via a series of tivity of the deeper aquifer from shallow boreholes (~300 m depth)
vertical borehole heat exchangers or in deep aquifers [25]. in the northern part of the catchment.
This paper deals specifically with the potential of the deep Due to the lack of detailed well logs and physical data of this
sedimentary basin which is the Valley of Mexico with regards to area, a pilot study on the thermophysical rock properties of the
geothermal energy and possible energy storage and should be seen Tepoztlan Formation was conducted in outcrops, following detailed
as an impulse for future research. studies on the geological history [53,55e58].
The aim of this study is to provide thermophysical rock prop-
2. Geothermal energy from deep sedimentary basins erties of the different lithofacies types to be added as important
attributes into 3D reservoir models, identifying target formations
Using deep geothermal energy either involves natural hot water for geothermal reservoir utilization.
resources (hydrothermal plants) or the heat stored in the rock
(petrothermal plants). Both can be used to supply heat (at tem- 3. Geological setting
peratures above ca. 60  C) and for power generation e usually at
temperatures >100  C [26], with >150  C for dry steam power The Valley of Mexico refers to the lower part of the Basin of
plants and >180  C for flash steam power plants [27e29]. Never- Mexico (Fig. 1) which is one of the largest of a series of closed
theless, especially in low-to-medium temperature (~60e170  C), catchments located in the Transmexican Volcanic Belt [59,60].
water-dominated geothermal fields, the binary-cycle method Groundwater recharge occurs in the volcanic rocks of the moun-
[28,30,31] has made considerable progress for electricity produc- tains that surround the valley to form the Basin of Mexico [61]. The
tion [32e35]. Compared to other international terrestrial heat flow groundwater temperature towards the west of Mexico City is
and temperature data of sedimentary basins where deep 19 ± 1  C and increases to a fairly uniform 23 ± 1  C near the centre
geothermal energy is already harvested, the potential of the Valley of the basin [11]. After an increase in groundwater extraction in the
of Mexico is obvious. In Germany, for instance, areas such as the 1950's, the thermal water is tapped solely by boreholes with a
Molasse Basin in the South, the Upper Rhine Graben and the North distinct discharge temperature of 45  C [12]. Direct temperature
German Basin are already used for geothermal energy. According to logging in a nearby borehole showed a temperature of 87  C at a
BINE [26], in the Molasse Basin, groundwater with temperatures of depth of 1800 m [62,63]. According to Huizar-Alvarez et al. [12], the
70e140  C at 800e4500 m depth (heat flow of 80 mW/m2 [36] and observed temperature of the sampled water is in agreement with
very similar to the conditions in the Valley of Mexico) is already the natural geothermal gradient of ca. 3.16  C/100 m as the closest
used to produce electricity. The same applies for the Upper Rhine active volcanic area is located ca. 40 km to the southeast. By means
Graben were temperatures of 135e160  C are measured at depths of a silica geothermometer, Fournier [64] calculated an equilibrium
of 2500e3300 m (heat flow of >100 mW/m2) [36], and northern temperature of 163  C in a depth of at least 2500 m (at an assumed
Germany with groundwater temperatures of 55e170  C at depths geothermal gradient of 3.16  C/100 m).
of 1300e3800 m. Seismic studies and deep wells (drilled by PEMEX, Petro leos
The geothermal energy that is already harvested in China is Mexicanos) in the Basin of Mexico reaching 4000 m, give evidence
mostly exploited from sedimentary geothermal systems (e.g. North that the volcaniclastic succession in the lower unit of the basin is
China and Wei River Basins) with lowemedium temperature re- correlative with the Miocene Tepoztla n Formation [65,66] (Fig. 2).
sources (groundwater temperatures of 40e120  C at 1500e4100 m
and heat flow values of 55e80 mW/m2) [37e40]. This is because 4. Materials and methods
the population and economic activities are mainly distributed in
the eastern part of China where lowemedium resources are This study is based on an integrated analysis of petrographical
abundant, similar to the Valley of Mexico. and petrophysical data from the Tepoztl an Formation. 125 core
€tz / Renewable Energy 77 (2015) 423e429
N. Lenhardt, A.E. Go 425

n Formation (shaded in grey) (modified after [11] and [53]).

Fig. 1. Location map of the Basin of Mexico and areas south of the basin exposing the Tepoztla

samples from tuff, lava, tuffaceous breccia, conglomerates and pore space and fractures. Petrographic analyses were conducted on
sandstone with diameters of 5 cm were obtained by using a thin sections prepared from selected core-plug samples.
gasoline-driven drilling machine with diamond-studded drill Permeability measurements were carried out by usage of
heads. Core descriptions were prepared, detailing lithology, degree conditioned compressed air, using a gas pressure mini-
of welding, and alteration, as well as the nature and intensity of permeameter, developed at the Institute of Applied Geosciences,

Fig. 2. Cross-section through the Valley of Mexico and location of the sampled sections (modified after [78] and [53]).
426 €tz / Renewable Energy 77 (2015) 423e429
N. Lenhardt, A.E. Go

TU Darmstadt, Germany [67]. All samples were dried overnight in a The Wairakei and Broadlands geothermal fields in New Zealand, for
conventional oven at 38 e49  C before the measurements. instance, have rhyolitic tuff reservoir rocks with reported perme-
For the determination of the thermal conductivity the Optical abilities of 3.5$1014 m2e4.0$1014 m2 and 3.0$1014 m2, respec-
Scanning Method was applied [68] using a Thermal Conductivity tively, and porosities of 20% [69,70].
Scanner developed by “Lippmann and Rauen GbR”. In this method
the surface temperature of the sample is measured contactless by
infrared temperature sensors before and after heating with a con- 5.2. Thermal conductivity
tactless heat source. The sensors and the heat source move with
constant speed and constant distance to each other along the Thermal conductivity data of the different rock types are plotted
sample and reference samples with known thermal conductivities. in Fig. 3. Ranges and mean values for individual rock types are given
The determination of thermal conductivity is based on the com- in Table 1, for the four facies types of tuffs in Table 2. The lava
parison of the difference of the temperature of reference samples samples within the study area yield a mean conductivity of 1.5 W/
with known thermal conductivities and sample material with un- (m K), and a range from 1.0 to 1.9 W/(m K).
known thermal conductivity. As reference sample a material with a Generally, the conductivity of the tuffs shows a range from 0.4 to
thermal conductivity in the range of the estimated thermal con- 2.0 W/(m K) (mean of 0.9 W/(m K)). For non-welded tuffs the
ductivity of the sample is used. The measurement accuracy is stated thermal conductivity ranges from 0.4 to 0.8 W/(m K) (mean of
by the manufacturer as ca. 3%. 0.5 W/(m K)). Incipiently welded tuffs have measured conductiv-
ities ranging from 0.4 to 0.8 W/(m K) (mean of 0.6 W/(m K)).
Partially welded tuffs have conductivities ranging from 0.5 to
5. Results 1.7 W/(m K) (mean of 0.9 W/(m K)). Densely welded tuffs have
measured conductivities ranging from 1.5 to 2.0 W/(m K) with a
5.1. Permeability and porosity mean of 1.7 W/(m K).
The thermal conductivity of the mass-flow deposits shows a
Variations in permeability are correlated with lithology, alter- range between 0.6 and 0.9 W/(m K) (mean 0.8 W/(m K)). Finally,
ation, and, in case of the tuff samples, with degree of welding. The fluvial deposits show thermal conductivities ranging between 0.4
highest permeabilities within the Tepoztl an Formation rocks can be and 0.9 W/(m K) (mean 0.7 W/(m K)).
found in the siliciclastic rock samples (mean 2.8$1014 m2), fol-
lowed by the tuffs (mean of 2.7$1014 m2), tuffaceous breccias
(mean 2.2$1014 m2), and lavas exhibiting the lowest mean values 6. Discussion
of 9.7$1016 m2 (Table 1). The permeabilities of the tuff samples can,
furthermore, be distinguished according to their degree of welding The here presented thermophysical rock properties of the
(Table 2) into: 1) non-welded (mean 5.1$1015 m2), 2) incipiently volcano-sedimentary succession of the Valley of Mexico show, that
welded (mean 6.4$1014 m2), 3) partially welded (mean its tuffs and siliciclastic rocks qualify as target horizons for utili-
2.2$1014 m2), and 4) densely welded (mean 3.8$1016 m2). zation of deep geothermal reservoirs. Both potential reservoir rock
Porosity values taken from Lenhardt and Go €tz [53] show that types are widespread in the Valley of Mexico and are therefore very
the lavas are characterized by the highest porosity values (mean of promising exploration targets with respect to hydrothermal power
30%) followed by tuffs (mean 25.6%), conglomerates (mean 32.3%), generation. Applying the thermofacies concept [71], the low
sandstones (mean 18.9%) and the tuffaceous breccias showing the permeable tuffs (permeabilities at Cerro Prieto also only reach
lowest porosities with mean values of 15.2%. The relatively high 1014 m2 [72]) and siliciclastic rocks represent transitional (stim-
porosities of the lava samples can be explained by numerous ves- ulated) systems (Fig. 3), and depending on the degree of fracturing
icles and gas pockets in the lava. The tuff samples have a large range within the deeper part of the Valley of Mexico, represent hydro-
in measured porosity that corresponds to differences in welding thermal systems, respectively. Due to the high fracture porosity and
and compaction after emplacement. The welding range can be the well developed fracture and cavity network in the Valley of
subdivided into four distinct welding facies [53]: 1) incipiently Mexico [51], this area is well suited for hydrothermal systems.
welded (>36%), 2) partially welded (36e30%), 3) moderately wel- Furthermore, the deep groundwater with a temperature of 163  C
ded (30e2%), and 4) densely welded (<2%). Generally, a steady at a depth of ca. 2500 m as it was calculated by Fournier [64]
decrease in porosity can be noticed from incipiently (mean of 37.7%) (Fournier, 1981) and Edmunds et al. [11] for the Valley of Mexico
to densely welded tuffs with strongly reduced porosities (mean would be very much suitable for electricity production in a binary
of 1.6%). geothermal power plant.
The permeability and porosity values from Tepoztla n are similar Following the volumetric approach of Muffler and Cataldi [73]
to those reported for other geothermal systems. Most volcanic- leads to a first assessment of the geothermal reservoir potential
hosted geothermal systems have relatively low matrix perme- of the Valley of Mexico by quantifying the heat in place. This
ability, and thus fluid flow and bulk permeability are typically approach allows a direct calculation of the heat in place for each
controlled by fractures. Bulk reservoir permeability values usually stratigraphic unit that is hotter than 60  C by using Eq. (1) and may
range between 1 and 100 mD (9.9$1016 m2 to 9.9$1014 m2) [69]. enable a detailed regional quantification.

Table 1
Summary of permeability and thermal conductivity measurements.

Lithology Number of Range of permeability (m2) Permeability Range of thermal Thermal conductivity
measurements mean (m2) conductivity [W/(m K)] mean [W/(m K)]

Lava 24 3.6$1016e2.9$1015 9.7$1016 1.0e1.9 1.5

Tuff 69 1.4$1016e1.9$1013 2.7$1014 0.4e2.0 0.9
Tuffaceous breccia 6 2.0$1014e2.8$1014 2.2$1014 0.6e0.9 0.8
Sandstones 26 1.3$1014e1.6$1013 2.8$1014 0.4e0.9 0.7
€tz / Renewable Energy 77 (2015) 423e429
N. Lenhardt, A.E. Go 427

Table 2
n tuffs.
Summary of permeability and thermal conductivity measurements of the Tepoztla

Lithology Degree of welding Number of Range of permeability (m2) Permeability mean (m2) Range of thermal Thermal conductivity
measurements conductivity [W/(m K)] mean [W/(m K)]

Tuff Non-welded 6 2.7$1015e7.2$1015 5.1$1015 0.4e0.8 0.5

Tuff Incipiently welded 17 3.4$1016e1.9$1013 6.4$1014 0.4e0.8 0.6
Tuff Partially welded 33 1.6$1016e1.0$1013 2.2$1014 0.5e1.7 0.9
Tuff Densely welded 13 1.4$1016e5.9$1016 3.8$1016 1.5e2.0 1.7

Eth ¼ cr $rr $V$ðTr  Ts Þ (1) Despite the obvious advantages of the use of clean and safe
geothermal energy sources, there are also some major disadvan-
where Eth is heat in place [J], cr the specific heat capacity of the tages to it, e.g. transport of the power from the plant to the con-
reservoir rock [J kg1 K1], rr the density of the reservoir rock sumer without too much loss, and geothermal sites close to
[kg m3], V the reservoir volume [m3], Tr the reservoir temperature volcanic centres containing poisonous and/or corrosive gases such
[ C] and Ts the surface temperature [ C], respectively. Reservoir as HCl and HF that can escape from the depth and be harmful to
porosity and heat stored in reservoir fluids can be neglected due to well casings or shallower aquifers that are used for drinking water
errors of less than 5% for regional scale studies [73] if porosity is extraction. In the Mexican Los Humeros geothermal reservoir, for
lower than 20%. With the available data for the Valley of Mexico, instance, HCl steam is produced by the flow of fluids from a deep
assuming a specific heat capacity cr of 1040 J kg1 K1 for the dry reservoir to a shallow water-saturated reservoir [76], resulting
volcanic rocks (c.f. [74]) and a mean density rr of 2.54 [75] a pre- in corrosion and scaling due to fluid mixing and reacting with
liminary estimation of the geothermal reservoir potential suggests casing and rock [77]. The geothermal field of Cerro Prieto, in turn, is
more than 4000 TWh (14.4 EJ) of power generation. Further studies located far away from major cities where its power is needed. Both
on the Valley of Mexico, including drill core and seismic analyses, major disadvantages, i.e. the distance to the consumer and the
3D-modelling, and further measurements of the petrophysical corrosive gases, can be overcome by using the natural geothermal
properties of its different lithologies at depth have to provide more gradient of Mexico's deep sedimentary basins such as the Valley of
information on the actual extend and quality of the reservoir rocks Mexico with a depth of more than 4000 m. The results of this study
in order to correct the here provided first estimation of a reservoir show the basin's favourable conditions, which bear similarities to
potential. other international sedimentary basins whose geothermal poten-
In addition, the here presented poroperm data point to lithol- tial is currently being assessed (e.g. Pannonian Basins System of
ogies and areas of high potential for energy storage, i.e. compressed Rumania and Hungary) or already harvested (e.g. Molasse Basin,
air energy storage and underground thermal energy storage, in the Germany; Wei River Basin, China) and, which are dominated by
Valley of Mexico. clastic sedimentary and partly fractured and karstic limestone

n Formation reservoir rocks and their thermofacies classification following the thermofacies concept by Sass and Go
Fig. 3. Thermophysical properties of the Tepoztla €tz [71],
describing a geothermal system depending on heat transport (convective/conductive).
428 €tz / Renewable Energy 77 (2015) 423e429
N. Lenhardt, A.E. Go

successions with permeabilities and effective porosities of sedi- [12] Huizar-Alvarez R, Carrillo-Rivera JJ, Angeles-Serrano G, Hergt T, Cardona A.
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