In 2009, Cornell faculty, staff, and students came together to create a Climate Action Plan that made a goal of making the Ithaca campus carbon neutral by 2035. Since then, gross emissions have already been reduced by about 30% through several measures, such as installing solar farms and ceasing the use of an old coal-powered energy plant. Now, a new initiative to keep the campus warm in winter with a geothermal project called Earth Source Heat might help reduce emissions by another 38%. Syl Kacapyr reports for the Cornell Chronicle:
Cornell is pursuing a project that has the potential to eliminate an estimated 82,000 metric tons of carbon from its annual footprint and establish one of the country’s most advanced geothermal systems to heat the 745-acre Ithaca campus – an effort that could demonstrate a new scalable model for using this sustainable energy source throughout the U.S. and almost anywhere in the world.
Cornell is calling the project “Earth Source Heat.” This effort to explore the potential of enhanced-geothermal energy will combine Cornell’s world-leading energy and sustainability researchers with the living laboratory of Cornell’s facilities over the next two decades. Its first step will be a planned small-scale demonstration installation within about five years of a well pair that will reach into the basement rock more than two miles below the surface to tap the Earth’s vast heat reservoir. Water will be circulated in a closed loop through the rock and return to the surface to supply heat to the campus.
Should this small-scale demonstration project prove successful, Cornell will consider moving forward with plans to install a full-scale system to heat most buildings on the campus. During extremely cold weather, the system would be supplemented with heat from a biomass gasification facility, providing a second source of clean energy. Using local biomass resources, such as wood or nonfood crops, would be more efficient than over-sizing the geothermal system to handle peak-heating loads.
This hybrid system would be the first in the U.S. to combine enhanced-geothermal with a district-heating system capable of distributing hot water from a centralized location to multiple buildings. Domestically, only a handful of enhanced-geothermal sites are under development – and all are currently focused on electricity generation.
The eastern U.S. has not been considered attractive for enhanced-geothermal projects because of its lower geothermal temperature gradients compared with the West. However, a recent survey of the upper Appalachian basin conducted by Cornell Engineering revealed that subsurface heat deep in portions of New York and Pennsylvania is likely of sufficient quality to provide district heating to residential and commercial buildings. This is especially significant given the Northeast’s cold winters and dense population centers.
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