A fan of geothermal energy who loves her state, Transitional Energy co-founder and CEO Salina Derichsweiler has a simple goal.
“I am a native of Colorado and would like our state to lead the way when it comes to geothermal power generation,” said Derichsweiler.
Derichsweiler’s passion to solve the climate crisis is behind her efforts to bring her company’s geo-thermal technology to its first pilot program in Colorado.
She has an impressive history in the state.
“I was the first Native American in our public schools to graduate and receive a scholarship,” she said. “When I graduated high school, the Denver Post had written an article about my childhood, foster care and the things I’ve overcome. I was off to the (Colorado) School of Mines when the vice president of technology at Marathon Oil tracked me down and offered me an internship. That’s how I got into the oil and gas industry; it kind of fell in my lap.”
Derichsweiler grew up in Denver. Upon graduating from Aurora Central High School, she received a Boettcher Scholarship. She graduated valedictorian from Colorado School of Mines with a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering and petroleum refining. She went on to receive an MBA in finance from Pepperdine University.
Net carbon zero
Her goal is affordable and abundant energy.
“When growing up, we were having to choose between ‘Do we pay our electric bill or do we buy food this month?’” she said. “The energy costs are critical to many people. I want to make sure it’s affordable and abundant as we transition to renewable energy resources.”
Co-founder Benjamin Burke, the company’s chief technology officer, said they started by asking simple questions.
“How do you make an oil and gas company net carbon zero? Is it possible, and how would you approach it?” said Derichsweiler.
Derichsweiler and Burke convened an executive team with more than 100 years of combined expertise to plan out a transition.
Derichsweiler said, “How can we solve this problem and look at a broader view of energy? The solution — why can’t it be both? Why can’t it be more of a hybrid approach to energy? We pragmatically transitioned from one space to the next.”
COVID to climate
The middle of a pandemic in February 2020 was a difficult time for any business to start a company, So, Transitional Energy had some challenges from the beginning, starting with upside-down prices and skeptical investors. They chose to tackle one problem — carbon pollution from energy generation.
“Can we solve the problem at hand, to reduce carbon emissions, because we have the climate crisis to deal with,” Derichsweiler said. “That’s the way we solve it is to reduce carbon emissions.
“We agreed upon the goal to solve that problem. It’s an idea about energy from abroad, and combine the specific goal of reducing carbon emissions.”
Derichsweiler said traditional steam-powered turbines — called the Organic Rankin Cycle Technology — have been the most common way of capturing heat waste, and it’s been around for more than 100 years. Burning fuels create steam, which turns turbines that create electricity.
Over time, Transitional Energy’s team figured out new ways to use geothermal waste energy from oil and gas wells to turn the turbines more efficiently at lower temperatures.
“Traditional geothermal resources need a temperature that’s greater than 300 degrees Fahrenheit,” she said. “We have the chemistry that allows us to capture or be able to generate power from lower temperatures such as 150 to 300 Fahrenheit.”
In Europe, with tougher regulations around oil and gas extraction, there has been a move to find additional uses for wasted heat from wells for several years.
“In the U.S., the shale boom was happening, so all the capital was going to move to fossil fuels, “ she said. “This technology is advanced enough that manufacturers have found uses for this equipment in commercial maritime situations and other industrial heat-based applications.”
Derichsweiler envisions her company being a bridge between the manufacturers and the people who will be using this type of equipment. Her company has oil and gas clients who are on board with the environmental goals and focused on the reduction of carbon emissions.
Their first demonstration will be in Nevada, and then, Transitional Energy will focus the pilot program on Colorado and work with major oil and gas companies on one side and with Brighton’s United Power to buy up the electricity they generate.
“It’s how we commercialize what we call thermal resources so that waste heat generates power and set it up to be a benefit to Colorado,” she said.