La Yesca HEP station officially opened

 Mexico's geography in the Press, Updates to Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on La Yesca HEP station officially opened
Nov 122012

The La Yesca dam was officially opened last week by President Calderón. According to the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), at 208.5 meters (684 feet) high, it is the second highest dam of its kind in the world, 22 meters lower than the dam for the Shibuya hydroelectric plant on the Qingjiang River in China.

The dam is located on the Santiago River, on the border between Nayarit and Jalisco, 105 km NW of Guadalajara (Jalisco) and 23 km NW of the town of Hostotipaquillo (Jalisco). This location is north of the towns of Magdalena and Tequila.

La Yesca dam and reservoir

The reservoir has a total capacity of 2.5 billion cubic meters, of which about half can be used for generating HEP. The surface area of the reservoir is 33.4 square kilometers (13 sq mi).

La Yesca is upstream of two other major HEP dams: El Cajón and Aguamilpa, and represents the latest addition to Mexico’s ambitious plan to increase the proportion of its energy needs coming from renewable sources. La Yesca has a total installed capacity of 750 MW, equivalent to about half the total electricity requirements of Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city.

La Yesca dam

The La Yesca HEP scheme represents an investment of about 1.1 billion dollars and was constructed by a consortium led by Mexican firm Ingenieros Civiles Asociados (ICA). Construction began in September 2007. The Santiago River was temporarily diverted in March 2009, and the first generating unit entered service in October 2012. The second unit will enter service this month. The machine house is on the northern side of the river, and the spillway on the southern side.

The three major dams on the River Santiago help to reduce flooding downstream, while also increasing fishing opportunities. According to a CFE study, fish yields from Aguamilpa, the most accessible of the three major dams, have risen from 33.5 metric tons/yr to 5,000 metric tons/yr since the reservoir was completed.

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How many oil refineries does Pemex have?

 Mexico's geography in the Press, Updates to Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on How many oil refineries does Pemex have?
Sep 222012

If many of the press reports about the tragic events that led to the death of 29 Pemex workers in Reynosa (Tamaulipas) are to be believed, the problem was an explosion in a Pemex oil refinery. There is just one small “detail” in these statements: there is no Pemex oil refinery in or near Reynosa!

The accident occurred during maintenance at a gas pipeline distribution center, which is a very different industrial installation to an oil refinery.

For the record, Pemex currently has six oil refineries in Mexico, shown on the map below, and listed here by their 2007 production in barrels/day (b/d):

  • Tula Refinery, Hidalgo (289,000 b/d)
  • Salina Cruz Refinery, Oaxaca (272,000 b/d)
  • Cadereyta Refinery, Nuevo León (217,000 b/d)
  • Salamanca Refinery, Guanajuato (188,000 b/d)
  • Minatitlan Refinery, Veracruz  (170,000 b/d)
  • Ciudad Madero Refinery,  Tamaulipas (141,000 b/d)
Pemex installations in Mexico. (Adapted from Fig 15.5 of Geo-Mexico). All rights reserved.

Pemex installations in Mexico (adapted from Fig 15.5 of Geo-Mexico). All rights reserved.

The six Pemex refineries produce liquid gas, gasoline, diesel, kerosene and other fuels. The state oil giant is expanding its refining capacity by building a second oil refinery, Refinería Bicentenario, in Tula (Hidalgo). Expected to cost around 10 billion dollars in total, it will have the capacity to process 300,000 barrels of crude a day and is expected to be operational sometime in 2016.

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Appropriate technology project supplies solar-powered stoves

 Other  Comments Off on Appropriate technology project supplies solar-powered stoves
Jul 262012

In a recent post, we mentioned a video on the Global Post website about transport developments in Mexico City. Global Post has published another short video in the same series, that is equally interesting and valuable as a teaching resource:

My first experience of a solar-powered stove was during an environmental education workshop in the state of Michoacán some 25 years ago. I was underwhelmed by its performance, but the more modern (and much more efficient) designs featured in this video definitely merit a much closer look.

The video focuses on the work of Gregor Schäpers, a self-taught solar engineer, and his company Trinysol, that makes solar-powered stoves and boilers. The company, located in the village of El Sauz in the state of Hidalgo, a short distance north-east of Mexico City, is a good example of the development of appropriate technology.

One of Trinysol’s first projects was working with a women’s cooperative in the village of  San Andrés, who produce a sweet  syrup from green agave plants. The process involves hours of cooking, and therefore requires a large input of energy. Prior to the installation of Scheffler reflectors and solar-powered hotplates, the women relied on gas.

Solar reflectors, San Andrés.

Schäpers has since set up hundreds of solar-powered boilers, and dozens of solar stoves in the region. Some are designed for individual families; others are suitable for small-scale industrial use, for example to provide energy for bakeries (panaderias) or tortilla-making plants (tortillerias).

According to the figures offered in the video, it costs about 4,000 dollars to build and install heating for a panadería, but can save the owners up to 5,000 dollars a year in energy costs. The investment is therefore fully recouped within a year. The system should last for 30 years, so a solar-powered system represents a significant improvement to the economics of many small businesses, giving them the opportunity to expand or allocate more of their scarce resources elsewhere.

Mexico and USA sign agreement for development of Gulf of Mexico oil reserves

 Updates to Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on Mexico and USA sign agreement for development of Gulf of Mexico oil reserves
Feb 272012

The USA and Mexico share the Gulf of Mexico, with periodic arguments about the precise offshore limits of each country’s jurisdiction. An earlier post includes a brief summary of the history of negotiations over this contentious maritime boundary:

The reason this boundary matters is because the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico are thought to have massive deep-water oil and gas fields. The USA has encouraged major oil multinationals such as Shell and BP to explore relatively deep parts of the Gulf, those lying more than 500 meters or 1,640 feet below sea level.

location of doughnut holesDeveloping these fields requires advanced, specialist deep-water drilling techniques, which only a small number of major international (multinational) oil firms currently have the expertise to undertake. As was seen not long ago, accidents in these fields can be very difficult to avoid and any resulting damage very difficult to clean up:

The legal battle connected to that spill has been postponed; it had been due to start today (27 February 2012) in a New Orleans court. The April 2010 accident killed 11 oil workers and released up to 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf.

In the Mexican sections of the Gulf of Mexico, very little oil exploration and development has yet been carried out. All oil exploration and development in Mexico is managed by state-owned oil giant Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex), though they can contract other firms to undertake work on their behalf if or when needed. Pemex is the world’s third-largest oil producer and the largest contributor to Mexico’s federal budget. It is one of the very few oil companies worldwide that manages all aspects of the productive chain, from exploration to refining and marketing. Pemex has had more than its fair share of serious environmental issues:

Mexican experts believe that up to 29.5 billion barrels of oil might reside in Mexico’s share of the Gulf, but Pemex has little to show for almost a decade of deep-water drilling apart from some relatively minor gas finds.

A few days ago, Mexico and the USA finally signed an accord that, in the words of Mexican President Felipe Calderón, “ensures that each country can develop its corresponding oil and natural gas deposits in the trans-border area of the Gulf of Mexico.” In a joint formal statement, Mexico’s Foreign Affairs and Energy Secretariats said that the “historic” agreement “will generate the necessary legal certainty for the long-term development of resources that may be found in that area.” It remains to be seen just how quickly and efficiently Pemex can actually take advantage of the deep-water drilling opportunities that the new agreement is designed to safeguard.

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Value-added from solid waste in Mexico

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Value-added from solid waste in Mexico
Dec 142011

In a previous post, we looked briefly at the role of plastics recycling in Mexico City’s waste separation program. In this post, we describe two other developments related to solid waste disposal.

Recycling finally reaches the take-off point in Mexico

Nationwide, it took an entire decade for the plastics recycling rate in Mexico to increase from 10 to 15%. Then, in 2010, as more companies sought part of a potentially very lucrative market, the rate shot up to 17%. Admittedly, though, Mexico still lags far behind the 22% rate boasted by the European Union members in this regard.

Mexican industry generates 3.8 million metric tons of plastic waste a year (36% of it in Mexico City). The nationwide recycling capacity for plastics (geared towards hard plastic or PET) currently stands at only 646,000 metric tons, so there is plenty of room for more companies and recycling plants.

Garbage-powered street lights

The World Bank is helping finance a new bio-energy project in Monterrery which will reduce emissions by the equivalent of a million tons of CO2. This is about the same quantity as the annual emissions of 90,000 vehicles, or the amount of CO2 that would be absorbed annually by a forest with an area of 970 hectares.

The project, run by Bioenergía de Nuevo León, uses methane gas given off by decomposing garbage in one of the city’s landfills, in Salinas Victoria, which receives 5000 tons of garbage a day. The power plant’s installed generation capacity of 17mW should be sufficient to supply 90% of the nighttime street lighting in the Monterrey metro area. During the day, power from the project is supplied to the city’s metro system. Any surplus is sold to the Federal Electricity Commission and fed into the national grid.

photo of garbage

Recycling has a long way to go...

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Dec 072011

The federal government has announced a six-year overhaul of Mexico’s domestic natural gas market, coupled with building some major extensions to the existing natural gas pipeline network.

Recent discoveries of massive reserves of shale gas have prompted the government to abandon plans to build more nuclear power stations and focus more attention on natural gas. New combined-cycle power stations are planned, alongside 4,400 km of new pipelines, which will be funded by 8 billion dollars of public-private financing and bring natural gas to more than 5 million potential consumers for the first time.

The expansion of Mexico’s pipeline network will extend the system into four states–Zacatecas, Colima, Sinaloa and Morelos–where natural gas was previously unavailable. The improvements in infrastructure should persuade many businesses to switch from oil and liquid petroleum gas to cleaner and less expensive natural gas.

Projected gas pipeline network, 2020.

Mexico's projected natural gas pipeline network, 2020.

The major projects are shown on the map (green pipelines already exist). The Manzanillo-Guadalajara section (shown in red) is already built and being subjected to final testing before being brought on-stream early in 2012. It will immediately increase the competitiveness of companies in several key parts of central Mexico.

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Mexico reduces emissions with innovative carbon credit project

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Mexico reduces emissions with innovative carbon credit project
Nov 212011

Mexico is rapidly becoming a key market for environmental investments, and now accounts for one in every five projects involving Clean Development Mechanisms (CDMs) in Latin America. A recent Reuters news item gives the basic details of one CDP project:

  • Mexico to earn royalty on light bulb carbon credits

CDMs, established after the Kyoto Protocol, allow companies in developing countries to sell Certified Emission Reduction certificates (CERs) to buyers in industrialized countries, to offset their own emissions control targets. The certificates prove that there has been a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

One project involving CERs, started by Australian company Cool nrg International, will reduce Mexico City’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 16 million tonnes over the next 10 years. The company is distributing 30 million free energy-efficient lightbulbs to 6.5 million low-income households, which will save 33,000 gigawatt hours of electricity.

Watch Nick Francis from Cool nrg explain the plan and why it is a win-win-win for everyone concerned:

Every tonne of CO2 saved generates a CER credit (currently trading at 9 dollars). For every credit, Mexico receives a royalty payment. Cool nrg then sells the CERs to companies in industrialized countries. The project is a world first and its success will be closely monitored by many other countries.

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Nov 162011

Mexico may have major reserves of petroleum but it lacks the necessary refining capacity to supply the domestic market with all the refined products such as vehicle fuels that its industrial, commercial and residential sectors demand.

As a result, Mexico has to import refined petroleum products, mainly from the USA. The high costs of these imports is a constant point of discussion in Mexico. If the country developed sufficient refining capacity, it could spend every dollar that currently goes on petro-based imports on something else, such as social services or infrastructure improvements.

Pemex imports. Credit:
Pemex imports, by month. Figures in millions of US dollars. Credit:

A small fortune is being spent each month on petroleum-related imports (see graph). Over the past year, the cost of imports has risen 12.3%. This is almost entirely due to higher oil prices on international markets; the volume of imports has increased only 1% over the period.

Imports of refined petroleum products will not end any time soon. Mexico does plan to build new refineries and expand its refining capacity, but they will take years to complete. Earlier this year, it was reported that Pemex engineers were adding the final touches to the blueprints for a new refinery in Tula (Hidalgo). Work began with the re-routing of existing irrigation channels and high tension power lines to take them well away from the site. It remains unclear, though, just how long it will take for this project to be completed.

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Gulf of Mexico energy reserves: updates in Mexico’s oil and gas sector

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Gulf of Mexico energy reserves: updates in Mexico’s oil and gas sector
Oct 252011

PEMEX awards first-ever contracts for the operation of oil fields.

In a move welcomed by international oil analysts, Pemex has awarded British company Petrofac Facilities Management Ltd. a contract to operate the Santuario oil fields in Tabasco. Prior to this contract, all oil field operations in Mexico since 1938 had been directly managed by Pemex.

Operations in two other areas – Magallanes and Carrizo – are also being contracted out. The areas cover 312 square kilometers between them, and have 3P (proven, probable, possible) reserves totaling 207 million barrels of crude oil equivalent. The contractual changes should attract considerable foreign investment in coming years, and are expected to play an important role in boosting national oil production from its current level of 2.5 million barrels a day.

Major natural gas discovery in the Gulf of Mexico

Pemex has announced that its Piklis 1 offshore well, located 150 km northwest of Coatzacoalcos in the Lakach field, has found a massive deposit of natural gas 5,431 meters below the water surface. The deposit holds more than 400 billion cubic feet of gas and, when production begins in 2014, it should yield 700-800 million cubic feet/day, reducing Mexico’s natural gas imports by up to 80% over the next 15 years. Compared to 2009, Pemex’s total revenues in 2010 rose 20.3% to 115 billion dollars, mainly due to high prices for petroleum and related products; export sales were 21.4% higher. Pemex is currently producing about 2.6 billion barrels of crude oil/day.

location of doughnut holes

How much does it cost to produce a barrel of oil?

According to Mexico City daily La Jornada, Pemex has maintained its enviable low costs per barrel of oil obtained (all figures in dollars):

  • 2006 $4.40
  • 2007 $4.90
  • 2008 $6.10
  • 2009 $4.90
  • 2010 $5.20

These costs per barrel are very competitive, and well below the costs recorded for other major firms as Total, BP, Exxon, Statoil, Chevron and Petrobras, who have production costs of between $6.10 and $10.00 a barrel.

Transborder oil fields

Several major oil and gas fields are known to straddle the international border in the Gulf of Mexico. Deepwater wells on the US side have already found massive deposits of oil, but, until recently, Pemex has not had the technology to drill in such deep waters. That is now changing. Pemex has begun drilling from the deepwater “Bicentenario” semi-submersible platform. The first well, Talipau-1, will descend 940 meters to the sea floor and then a further 5,000 meters into oil-bearing strata in the region known as the Cinturón Plegado de Perdido.

Pemex believes that deepwater wells in the Gulf of Mexico will eventually yield several billion barrels of oil.

The Bicentenario, built in South Korea, is capable of operating in water up to 3,000 meters deep; it is 100 meters in length, 78 meters wide and rises 138 meters above the surface, with a total weight of 58,000 metric tons. It will house up to 160 workers at a time.

In related news, bilateral talks were held in Washington DC at the end of August relating to offshore oil fields that straddle the Mexico-USA maritime boundary in the Gulf of Mexico. The talks will set the parameters for efficient and safe exploitation of these hydrocarbon reserves in the future. A formal agreement is expected to be completed before the end of this year.

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Aviation history as Mexico’s Aeroméxico uses biofuel for transatlantic passenger flight

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Aviation history as Mexico’s Aeroméxico uses biofuel for transatlantic passenger flight
Aug 132011

Aeroméxico, Mexico’s major international airline, made aviation history in July. Aeroméxico flight AM1, from Mexico City to Madrid, was the first ever commercial transatlantic passenger flight using bio-fuel. The Boeing 777 flew on a mixture of biofuel and regular jet fuel. Earlier this year, another Mexican airline, Interjet, began using renewable jatropha-based biofuel for flights between Mexico City and Tuxtla Gutierrez in the southern state of Chiapas. Jatropha is a genus of plants, mainly shrubs, that grow wild in several parts of Mexico, including Chiapas. Plantations of jatropha require four or five years of cultivation before the plant is sufficiently mature for commercial harvesting.

Jatropha-based biofuel is marketed as “green jet fuel” and is currently significantly more expensive than regular jet fuel. However, the price of biofuel is expected to fall rapidly as more of it is produced. The “life-time” emissions from using jatropha (including its growing period, processing and combustion) are estimated to be at least 60% less than using conventional jet fuel.

Sources of biodiesel.

Sources of biodiesel. Credit: Bayer CropScience

Mexico’s aviation sector will need 40 million liters of biofuel a year by 2015 in order to meet the national target of 1% of all airline fuel coming from renewable sources. The aviation industry’s long-term target is to halve its 2005 carbon footprint by 2050.

Despite Mexico’s recent adoption of jatropha-based biofuel, there is considerable controversy about the plant’s real value as a sustainable source of renewable energy. See, for example, the critique “Hailed as a miracle biofuel, jatropha falls short of hype” on Yale Environment 360, a publication of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.