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Geothermal Exploration on the ESF Quad

College looks to increase use of geothermal heat
12/3/2019

A large well-drilling machine bore a six-inch diameter hole 300 feet deep into the bedrock. The bedrock starts 32 feet below ground level. As Josh Arnold, the College's director of energy management and utilities, told us a few weeks ago, this test-well will allow our consultant Arcadis determine the feasibility for a much larger geothermal (ground-heat exchange) well-field that could potentially meet a majority of Moon Library's heating and cooling needs. ESF's location has one of the highest feasibility rankings in New York State under the Geothermal Clean Energy Challenge sponsored by NYPA (New York Power Authority) and NYSERDA (New York State Energy and Research Authority). We successfully applied for this NYPA program in the spring of 2018. The first few stages have been funded by NYPA.

With this single test-well, we hope to acquire data to better understand thermal conductivity capacity and the geologic nature of the substrata. We are looking for the ability of the bedrock to transfer heat to a glycol piping system that would comprise the geothermal system if installed. Getting a grasp on the nature of the subsurface is important as well. We need to gain clarity on how much clay exists, the specific type of bedrock and if there are any gaps or voids. This will help us understand the continuity capacity of the subsurface material - we need it to be conductive and have minimal insulator qualities, thereby fostering the transfer of heat. Arcadis has taken the drilling effluent for further analysis of these factors.

A steel, six-inch diameter and hollow casing was inserted into the well a little over 32 feet (just into the bedrock). The well casing was capped and is temporarily visible. When testing is done the casing will be cut-off, the cap recessed just under the surface of the ground, and the Quad returned to normal later today. Arcadis is on campus today performing additional tests. All test results will be used by Arcadis as they perform further analysis and develop a potential design. If the data supports the potential for good heat transfer (heat exchange), and we are able to address project financing needs, the geothermal project could move forward, which could mean a total of 55 wells in the Quad. They would be connected by piping, leading to Moon Library. Upon completion, the Quad would look as it did before the well-drilling.

We will need to further discuss future implications for the Quad in a transparent and inclusive manner if we decide to install the geothermal system. However, if it is implemented, this would free up capacity in the Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plant located in the basement of the Gateway Center. That would allow the College to fully transition Illick Hall to steam created from the CHP. All of this would equate to significantly lower utility costs; allow us to generate more electricity with the CHP steam turbine; and reduce use of source energy (steam from Syracuse University), resulting in the added benefit of significant carbon emissions reductions. With this present effort, we are also striving to better understand the economic value and capital costs at this stage so that we can make a data-informed "go, no-go" decision.

If you have any questions please contact me at malichte@esf.edu, or Josh Arnold at jlarnold@esf.edu.

Mark Lichtenstein

ESF Chief of Staff and Chief Sustainability Officer