Stagner said that Stanford's system will be different in the way it will provide both warmth and cooling in the same season -- unlike Ball State, which will need a lot of heat in the winter and a lot of cooling in the summer. By recycling waste heat in the system, the university will reduce energy use by 70 percent.
"For us, in a milder climate, we have a tremendous amount of waste heat," he said. "Let's go ahead and reuse that."
Universities, especially suburban or rural ones, make good settings for renewable energy projects, said Robert Bell, project architect for the geothermal conversion of two residence halls at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio -- the two oldest buildings on campus.
A learning experience for undergraduates
The largest field of boreholes is next to the brick smokestacks of two of the coal-fired boilers that were installed in 1944. Two more were added 11 years later, as the campus expanded after World War II. It wasn't until about 50 years later, two decades after EPA began establishing regulations for emissions from coal-fired power plants, that the university began to evaluate the condition and remaining life of the boilers.
In the 2005 to 2007 biennium, the Indiana State General Assembly granted the university nearly $45 million for a circulating fluidized bed boiler to co-fire 30 percent biomass with 70 percent coal. Ball State found itself in a financial predicament: The boiler cost $20 million to $25 million more than what was appropriated. Although the capital cost of the geothermal project was higher, it provided $2 million in savings.
So Lowe and his colleagues began to look into alternatives. Although Indiana is not located in a prime location for geothermal energy (most of the potential is in the western United States), the technology has existed since the 1940s. Then there was the matter that EPA had begun crafting its Boiler MACT regulations for 187 different hazardous air pollutants.
"We thought, wouldn't it be nice if we didn't have to build those [pollution controls]?" he said.
Outside of Ball State's own commitments to invest, funding for the second phase is still unclear, said Lowe. There have been no donors or foundation support at this point.
"We'd hope that the U.S. DOE would continue [to support] this type of opportunity," he said. Last year, federal money stopped flowing to the project. The university will have to look to Indiana or internally but will continue to search for federal grants and donors, Lowe said.
In the meantime, the system is a learning project. Geology students monitor the ground temperature for class projects. The university has engaged several other departments on campus -- from construction management to architecture -- to use the system for student theses. The fields with all the holes are also used to recruit new students.
"It's another thing that makes them happy to have come to Ball State University," added Lowe. "It's their world in about 20, 30 years."
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500