Day 18: Vulcanode.
18 dicembre 2021

We leave Santa Ana when it is still dark. It will take us over three and a half hours to reach the volcano of Tecapa and the geothermal power plant in Berlin. It strikes us that, despite it being 5:30 in the morning, there are already a lot of people around. At these latitudes, the days start early.

The Bitcoin Car crosses El Salvador light and noisy. We see the sunrise, the first since we’ve been in the tropics, and the traffic pouring onto the streets. The daily life of the locals reflected through the windows. Traveling by car to faraway and unknown places always has a great charm. We pass through San Salvador, but we drive past it without stopping, continuing eastward. As we move away from the capital, the landscapes become more lush and exotic. We cross mountain massifs and hills, we travel across large plains. We stop more than once to admire the view. America offers us these immense spaces, unusual for European eyes. Almost alien.

When the volcano appears in front of us, it has a certain impact. Its unmistakable conical silhouette is mammoth. Its slopes are entirely covered by an emerald green forest and even from a distance you can clearly see faint columns of smoke. Our car begins to climb until it reaches the village of Berlin. We struggle at first to find the road that leads to the plant. The paths are winding, mountainous, and the intense vegetation never allows us to see the horizon. 

We realize that we have found it when, with the complicity of a small clearing, we see in front of us an immense column of white steam. We drive up to the entrance. The bar is lowered and prevents us from passing. We give our names to the security personnel. We are expected. They let us park inside the complex and make us wait in a room reserved for us, after offering us two very welcome cups of coffee that help us shake off the tiredness of the long journey.

Guiding us on our tour of the plant will be two managers from Lageo, the company that operates it. Both scientists and technicians. Better that way. No politicians or public relations people. Their explanations are detailed and extremely fascinating. A geothermal power plant is a mesmerizing and impressive machine. It probes the bowels of the earth and extracts incandescent steam that reaches the surface at very high pressure. It is this tremendous force that powers the turbines of the electric generators. An unstoppable energy that flows uninterruptedly, day and night, without ever giving a break. 

We are fortunate to visit the complex these days. One of the three wells that feed the generators is undergoing maintenance, so the production line is down. This allows us to see places that are usually inaccessible. All around us is a maze of pipes, valves and sci-fi cylinders. The noise is omnipresent and deafening. Like a hissing sound, but colossal. The smell of sulphur permeates the air. We see the turbines, the steam cooling systems, the condensers, the control room, and the steam shafts. They go down deep and there are dozens of them, scattered everywhere on the slopes of the volcano. A labyrinth of elevated pipes runs through the forest piping water vapor here, even from tens of miles away.

It is at the end of the visit, when we turn the corner of a large building that we see a container powered by large transformers connected directly to the power plant. We get closer and the excitement rises. Our guides warn us, however. Soon they will open the doors of the Vulcanode, we could take pictures but we will not be able to enter. Our time will be limited, because the interior is artificially cooled and we cannot let the rigs get too hot.

As the doors open, we watch in fascination at these orderly arrays of computer soldiers, all in series. A small corridor on the left and racks of machines on the right. The tangle of cables is reminiscent of the circulatory system. We can’t hear the noise of the farm because the one from the power plant towers over everything. We recognize some Antminer S19 but our guide tells us that there are actually very different hardware in there. He doesn’t give us much information. In fact almost none. But he tells us that this is an experimental site that started working in October and what they are doing now is collecting information and statistics to plan the mining strategy that will be implemented in the near future. Part of this plant is connected to a pool, the other part is mining on its own. Also on this data will depend the expansion of the project. Many new Vulcanodes are planned, in many different locations.

As we make our way back to the offices of the power plant, we are stunned. We are in El Salvador, a developing country, yet we are in one of the most technologically advanced places on Earth. Here the power of our planet is harnessed and used to generate totally renewable electricity in unprecedented quantities. We take this energy and, in perfect compliance with the first principle of thermodynamics, condense it into absolute digital scarcity: Bitcoin. Something out of an Asimov’s novel.

It was an incredible day. One to be framed. Memorable. We shot so much footage. Soon we will make a video documentary that will allow you to see with your own eyes what we saw. For now, however, you will have to resign yourselves to wait. 


The video of the Volcanode (with English subs).