Groundbreaking low-carbon geothermal project might emerge in Minneapolis

By District Energy posted 03-30-2021 09:58


Energy News Network


The drilling came to an abrupt halt on the eastern edge of Minneapolis two weeks ago when the crew blew a hose. The engineers were drilling down through the layer of sandstone to reach the underground Shakopee and Jordan aquifers, in the hopes of pioneering a new energy system that could be a leap forward for decarbonizing Twin Cities homes.

Though the drilling rig stood a good 25’ high, it was still dwarfed by the massive abandoned grain silos that have long stood sentry over this overlooked part of town. Dubbed the Towerside district, the triangle of land along the BNSF rail yard between the Surly Brewery, the University of Minnesota and Minneapolis’ Prospect Park neighborhood might soon be one of the most energy efficient communities in the state.

“It looks like drilling a hole,” admitted Nina Axelson, who works for Ever-Green Energy, an environmental consulting and planning firm that specializes in district energy systems. “That’s one advantage of aquifer thermal energy storage; you do fewer wells and so you don’t need as much land.”

Unlike a traditional geothermal heating system, the proposed aquifer energy would use existing underground water as a kind of thermal storage system. With help from a grant from the McKnight Foundation, the test wells will measure the flow rate of the two aquifers to see if they would work. (The McKnight Foundation also funds Minnesota coverage for the Energy News Network.)

Such an aquifer system would be groundbreaking for the United States. Technically called Aquifer Thermal Energy Storage (ATES), these systems are more common in Europe, particularly in The Netherlands.

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