Cornell Moving Forward with Geothermal Energy Plan

Earth Source Heat will help Cornell achieve it's goal of neutrality by 2035...


From, Cornell Moving Forward with Geothermal Energy Plan.

Cornell is continuing its initiative to use deep geothermal resources for campus heating. Cornell's Senior Leaders Climate Action Group recently presented its findings regarding the school's stated goal of becoming a carbon neutral campus within 20 years and the use of an "unproven" but intriguing new method of heat production that could greatly reduce the school's carbon footprint by nearly 40 percent.

The report, titled Options for Achieving a Carbon Neutral Campus by 2035, detailed the group's work to determine the viability of six different potential routes forward in the school's quest for carbon neutrality. In the end, the group chose option one, a combination of Earth Source Heat, wind, water, solar and biomass. The plan would require drilling between two and four miles into the ground in order to find a depth that would properly warm the circulating water to the point that it can be used to heat the campus' buildings.

Early reports for the project's cost have suggested $12-15 million for the initial two-well, limited operation test process and the research needed to complete that.

Lance Collins, the school's Dean of Engineering, said Phase 1 will take a year, to find the acceptable spot to drill, then Phase 2 of Drilling will take 3-5 years. Most of the time would be spent acquiring the necessary permits and moving through the city's bureaucratic processes, not actually drilling. The report itself sets a hard deadline of finding a final course of action before 2025 if the university is to meet its 2035 goal.

"What we're doing here is providing that pathway forward, a non-carbon based way," Collins said. "We're talking about a limitless source of energy, if we're able to extract it." Collins explained the unique challenges of the region to this sort of geothermal system: Out near the West Coast, the natural rate of earthquakes makes it easier to access the high temperatures necessary to heat the water. In the east, however, more drilling is necessary, though that obstacle could make the project that much more innovative.

"What we're doing is more challenging, we'll have to drill deeper, but what's interesting about it is that if we are successful, it would allow this to be deployed much more widely and for us to create a new industry," Collins said.

While Earth Source Heat is certainly the most eyebrow-raising element of the plan, it would not be carrying the weight of carbon neutrality on its own. Wind, water and solar energy will be utilized to cover electricity needs, while biomass (which is energy produced from organic waste like crop materials) will be implemented during peak times to help lower the burden on the heating system.

Collins also pledged that the system will be designed not to disturb the Marcellus shale reservation that is located beneath the region, using multi-layer encased piping to lower the risk of some sort of leak or blowout. That aspect has become a point of interest, particularly among local environmental activists that allege the project borders on fracking, which would carry with it the risk of seismic disturbances like earthquakes. Collins emphasized the differences between fracking and what the school is planning--essentially, that there is much less pressure involved for the pipes being used. Additionally, the system is closed and used to heat, unlike fracking's open system for energy extraction.

Views expressed in News posts may not be those of Cornell University. No endorsement is implied.