Geoscientists from the Illinois State Geological Survey have begun geologic and hydrogeologic site characterization work for major federal geothermal energy projects. ISGS, part of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, was among several academic institutions, a geothermal industry association and national laboratories selected to undertake this work through the Federal Geothermal Partnerships (FedGeo) initiative.
ISGS brings more than 100 years of expertise to the team that is being led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory and includes National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, International Ground Source Heat Pump Association, Oklahoma State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“It’s really innovative and spectacular collaboration,” said Andrew Stumpf, principal research scientist for the Illinois State Geological Survey.
Data being gathered and analyzed by ISGS scientists, coupled with a numerical groundwater and heat-flow model being developed by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, as well as a geothermal resource model, will be used to help design ground source heating and cooling systems. Geothermal is a resilient, efficient, carbon-free energy source for heating and cooling buildings.
FedGeo is collaboration of Geothermal Technologies Office and the Federal Energy Management Program that aims “to help expand geothermal heating and cooling at federal sites nationwide.” According to the Department of Energy, “The federal government is the nation’s largest energy user and approximately 450 federal sites make up more than 75% of the federal government’s energy use. Converting even a few of those sites to geothermal heating and cooling systems can significantly decrease carbon emissions while increasing resilience and energy security for key federal sites.”
The first FedGeo sites will be two U.S. Department of Defense installations, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in New York and U.S. Army Garrison Detroit Arsenal in Michigan. ISGS scientists will map the geology and hydrogeology of the two sites, Stumpf said.
The mapping and modeling ISGS scientists will do on the FedGeo sites will both serve those specific projects, as well as begin to develop procedural guidelines that the geothermal industry can follow for building large heating and cooling systems, especially at federal sites and military installations, Stumpf explained. Such guidelines would allow geothermal systems to be installed more efficiently, with reduced costs, and with better understanding of the subsurface thermogeology and groundwater flow.
"The subsurface mapping and modeling are not typically done, but there are benefits – in particular, properly sizing the system and possibly reducing the overall costs,” Stumpf said.
The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 was amended in 2020 with the statement on the importance of understanding earth sciences and groundwater, said Yu-Feng Forrest Lin, director of Illinois Water Resources Center and principal research scientist for the Illinois State Geological Survey.
“Based on our previous research to support this amendment requested by federal legislators from Illinois, the same geological material when saturated could have a 10 times higher thermal conductivity than when dry,” Lin emphasized. “Moreover, understanding the impact of groundwater flow is key for utilizing the beneficial aspects of thermal transport and storage in subsurface which could certainly increase the performance and cost efficiency of geothermal systems.”
ISGS scientists previously contributed to the Campus Instructional Facility project on the University of Illinois’ Urbana-Champaign campus, where the impact of groundwater and thermogeology was evaluated in design of the geothermal borefield. The 122,000 gross square foot building, at the southeast corner of Springfield Avenue and Wright Street in Urbana, went into operation in April 2021 with a geothermal system that could heat and cool a neighborhood of around 30 houses. A geothermal monitoring well installed by ISGS provided real-time data used to guide the borefield design, reducing the annual operating cost of the building by $45,000, or $1.35 million over the operational 30- to 50-year lifespan of the system.
The Illinois State Geological Survey has been gathering geological data since the early 1850s. ISGS supports environmental quality, economic development and public safety by providing accurate, objective earth science research and information.
Media contacts: Andrew Stumpf, firstname.lastname@example.org