Ball State University Switches to Geothermal Energy
The shift to a renewable energy source will reduce the university’s carbon footprint by nearly half
Nearly 70 years after Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., installed its four coal-fired boilers, school employees have stopped shoveling and the old system has gone cold as the university embraces renewable energy with world’s largest district closed geothermal energy system.
Jim Lowe, director of engineering, construction and operations, watched the historic event. He has overseen the $80 million geothermal project—consisting of 3,600 boreholes to the system that heats and cools 47 buildings on campus—since the first hole was drilled in 2009.
The work to be completed includes finishing the system’s south borehole field, modifications to the South District Energy Station to accommodate the two new 2,500-ton heat-pump chillers, hot and chilled water distribution looping, and modification of the remaining buildings (predominately on the south side of campus) to accept the geothermal connections.
Lowe noted that when the system is complete next year, the shift from fossil fuels to a renewable energy source would reduce the university’s carbon footprint by nearly half while saving $2 million a year in operating costs.
The earth’s ability to maintain a constant temperature supports the thermodynamic principle for the geothermal system’s operation. A ground source heat pump coupled with a vertical closed loop piping system uses the Earth as either a heat source, when operating in heating mode, or a heat sink, when operating in cooling mode.
Phase 1 was completed in 2012. It consisted of two borehole fields, construction of the North District Energy Station and connecting buildings on the northern part of campus to the new distribution system.
“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 said. “This led to the decision to convert the campus to a more efficient geothermal-based heating and cooling system.”
Federal and state officials have endorsed Ball State’s foray into renewable energy. The U.S. Department of Energy provided a grant of $5 million under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Indiana General Assembly authorized nearly $45 million in state capital funding for the first phase. In 2013, the Indiana General Assembly authorized a $30 million cash appropriation for the second phase.
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.