Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana is constructing the nation’s largest closed loop geothermal energy system. According to the university, the project will take about five years to complete and will replace four coal-fired boilers. Approximately 4,100 boreholes will be drilled across 660 acres of campus. Once completed, the boreholes will be covered and the area will be restored. The geothermal system will provide heating and cooling for more than 45 buildings on campus.
As reported by Daniel Robison for NPR, the project could cost Ball State $80 million to complete. The university has received $40 million from the state and $5 million in federal stimulus funds. And the project is expected to save the university about $2 million a year in operating costs. According to the NPR article, Jo Ann Gora, president of Ball State, indicated that an estimate of $50 million to replace the aging coal boilers, plus the cost of coal, led the university to consider a renewable energy alternative.
The geothermal system is also part of Ball State University’s commitments under the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). With its geothermal system, the university will be able to shut down its coal boilers that currently produce about 85,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year, and will reduce Ball State’s carbon footprint by nearly 50 percent.
The AASHE explains that each of the 5-inch diameter boreholes will be drilled to a depth of 450 feet. Piping will be inserted and water will be run through the pipes to take advantage of the heating and cooling effect of the earth through conduction. The loops of piping will be connected and routed to three energy stations located at different points on the campus, where heat pumps will transfer the energy. The hot and cool water loops will be connected to the buildings on campus and heat exchange and air handling systems will distribute the energy according to the heating and cooling cycles of the year. Horizontal looping will enable redistributing energy between buildings.
As reported in the Star Press, in October 2010, Ball State president Jo Ann Gora was awarded the 2010 Second Nature Climate Leadership Award by the American College & University President’s Climate Commitment for excellence in effecting environmental change, specifically for the university’s installation of the geothermal system. The award recognizes the best examples of how higher education institutions are shifting behavior to make a low-carbon economy possible. Ball State was also recognized for the minors it offers in sustainable practices, core courses that meet sustainability education criteria, and its programs that include environmental issues in teaching, research and service.
Ball State University honored with national environmental award – The Star Press
Daniel Robison, “University To Use Earth’s Temps To Heat Its Buildings” – NPR
Going Geothermal – Ball State University
Niles Barnes, “Planned Geothermal System Will Allow Ball State University to Shut Down Coal Plant” – Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education
Will Rafey, “A Breath of Fresh Air: Wind Power Revivifies Muncie” – Apollo News Service