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2-Mile Borehole to Reveal Viability of Campus’s Geothermal Future

By District Energy posted 06-28-2022 14:17


Cornell Chronicle


Cornell is one step closer to determining the feasibility of using deep geothermal energy to heat the Ithaca campus.

Drilling for the Cornell University Borehole Observatory (CUBO) began June 21 and is expected to last about two months. The borehole, located on a Cornell-owned gravel parking lot near Palm Road, will be subjected to a battery of tests, both during and after the drilling, to determine the temperature, permeability and other characteristics of the rock up to 10,000 feet below the earth’s surface.

These findings will help the university determine whether to move forward with a proposed plan to warm the Ithaca campus with Earth Source Heat (ESH), a process that would extract naturally heated water after it’s pumped underground, transfer its heat to a separate supply of water flowing within the campus’ heating distribution pipeline, and return the original water to the subsurface, where it warms back up and begins the cycle again.

Such a system would enable the university to meet its goal of carbon neutrality by 2035, while providing a blueprint for similar renewable energy efforts throughout the northeast and other parts of the U.S. where geothermal heat has not previously been utilized.

“This well will provide scientific information, but it will not be a production well,” said Jeff Tester, the David Croll Sesquicentennial Fellow and professor in the Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and principal investigator for the project. “Measurements made in the well will validate the temperatures and other properties at certain depths. This information will tell us a lot about the characteristics of the rock in a range where those temperatures could be useful for geothermal heat production, and will help us design and build an actual energy extraction process in the next phase.”

An energy project of this scale has not been attempted at Cornell since the implementation of Lake Source Cooling 22 years ago, Tester said. That five-year effort was one of the most significant sustainability initiatives undertaken by an American university.

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