In the shadow of two outdated smokestacks and four antiquated coal-fired boilers, Ball State University, Muncie, Ind., has started the second and final phase of converting the university to a geothermal ground-source heat pump system – the largest project of its kind in the United States.
The conversion, started in 2009 to
replace the coal boilers, now provides heating and cooling to nearly half the
campus. This phase of the project was dedicated in March.
When the system is complete, the shift
from fossil fuels to a renewable energy source will reduce the university’s
carbon footprint by nearly half, while saving $2 million a year in operating
Ball State is installing a vertical,
closed-loop district system that uses only fresh water. The system uses the
Earth’s ability to store heat in the ground and water thermal masses. A
geothermal heat pump uses the Earth as either a heat source, when operating in
heating mode, or a heat sink, when operating in cooling mode.
Under the direction of Jim Lowe,
director of engineering, construction and operations, work recently was completed
on Phase 1, which includes two geothermal fields, construction of the North
District Energy Station and connecting buildlings on the northern part of
campus to the new distribution system.
Work has begun on Phase 2, which
includes installation of 780 of the remaining 1,800 boreholes in a field on the
south area of campus. Construction will continue throughout 2013-2014, and will
include a new District Energy Station South containing two 2,500-ton heat pump
chillers and a hot water loop around the south portion of campus. The system then
will connect to all buildings on campus – eventually providing heating and
cooling to 5.5 million square feet.
“When costs began to escalate for the
installation of a new fossil fuel burning boiler, the university began to
evaluate other renewable energy options,” Lowe says. “This led to the decision
to convert the campus to a more efficient geothermal-based heating and cooling
The project has caught the attention of
universities and communities across the nation. Lowe is sharing information
about the university’s new operation with others who want learn how they too
can benefit from a geothermal system.