Ball State Geothermal Project Heats Up Reputation Even More

Considering my boss is a proud Ball State alum (actually, both of my bosses are) and he’s editor of BizVoice magazine, it’s no wonder I’ve gotten quite a few Cardinal-oriented story assignments in the last few years. However, the writing has really opened my eyes as to what an innovative institution the state has up in Muncie. While Ball State’s main claims to fame center around telecommunications and technology, their latest endeavor is in the field of on-campus energy production. Here’s text from a release from the school on its new geothermal program, and you can also read about its early stages in the July/August 2009 BizVoice:

In the shadow of two outdated smokestacks and four antiquated coal-fired boilers, Ball State has started the second and final phase of converting the university to a geothermal ground-source heat pump system – the largest project of its kind in the United States.

The conversion, started in 2009 to replace the coal boilers, now provides heating and cooling to nearly half the campus. This phase of the project will be dedicated in March.

When the system is complete, the shift from fossil fuels to a renewable energy source will reduce the university’s carbon footprint by nearly half while saving $2 million a year in operating costs.

Ball State is installing a vertical, closed-loop district system that uses only fresh water. The system uses the Earth’s ability to store heat in the ground and water thermal masses. A geothermal heat pump uses the Earth as either a heat source, when operating in heating mode, or a heat sink, when operating in cooling mode.

Under the direction of Jim Lowe, director of engineering, construction and operations, work has begun on Phase 2, which includes installation of 780 of the remaining 1,800 boreholes in a field on the south area of campus.

Construction will continue throughout 2013-2014 and will include a new District Energy Station South containing two 2,500-ton heat pump chillers and a hot water loop around the south portion of campus. The system will then connect to all buildings on campus – eventually providing heating and cooling to 5.5 million square feet.

"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 says. "This led to the decision to convert the campus to a more efficient geothermal-based heating and cooling system."

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.

An Office Building Unlike Any Other

I had an opportunity last week to take a tour of the Indiana state headquarters of The Nature Conservancy. The Efroymson Conservation Center received a great deal of publicity, justifiably so, when its doors opened about 13 months ago.

Green buildings may not be The Nature Conservancy’s primary focus, but sustainability is and its home shouts sustainability inside and out. You can learn much more from the organization itself, but a few nuggets from the tour of a near eastside downtown Indianapolis building expected to earn LEED Platinum status:

  • Saving the city an estimated $600,000 over 30 years by not connecting to the city sewer system
  • Thirty-eight wells, each 300 feet deep, in a closed loop geothermal system. The result: being able to "access 55 degrees whenever we want it," using traditional heating/cooling as a supplemental source.
  • Utilizing 43% less energy and 83% less water than a traditional building.
  • Taking advantage of as much natural light as possible, with offices and large windows situated along an expansive north/south corridor.
  • Add in a green roof, a "live wall" that features planters in a slanted retaining wall, recycled bricks from the original structure, Indiana hardwoods and limestone, a front desk made from salvaged timbers and plenty more.

I don’t feel I’ve done the structure and the organization justice with this brief description. Let’s summarize this way: it’s impressive, the organization is doing great work throughout Indiana and beyond, and if you want to see for yourself, they’ll be happy to show you around.