UIUC’S largest geothermal system goes online

larence Odom, Morgan White, Dr. Mohamed Attalla,  Dr. Andrew Stumpf, Dr. Tugce Baser, and Frank Holcomb stand in front of the new Campus Instructional Facility

The largest geothermal energy system implemented at the university so far went online in April, at the Campus Instructional Facility (CIF) ahead of its opening this coming fall. The CIF system is the fifth geothermal installation at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and can provide 135 tons of heating and/or cooling, twice as much as the next most recent geothermal installation on campus property.

Located at the southeast corner of Springfield Avenue and Wright Street in Urbana, the $75M CIF is a state-of-the-art 122,000 gross square foot facility that will support The Grainger College of Engineering’s transformative learning and teaching environments. The geothermal system comprises 40 vertical borehole exchange loops in the adjacent Bardeen Quadrangle and has enough capacity to handle the energy needed for approximately 30 American homes.

The CIF geothermal system was designed using data acquired and analyzed from a nearby geothermal monitoring well, installed to guide the project design. Researchers from the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS) and Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) installed a geothermal monitoring well 385 feet deep on the Bardeen Quad in late 2018. Using results from digital thermal response testing and associated field and laboratory analyses, such as ground temperature measurements and subsurface geologic and geophysical mapping, the CIF project team reduced the overall borefield size from 60 to 40 wells. This evaluation was critical to shortening the projected payback period and allowing the geothermal energy system to be included as a part of the CIF.

Dr. Andrew Stumpf of the ISGS said, “This is the first geothermal energy system on campus that used findings from a monitoring well. Even though geothermal energy has been used for decades in the Midwest, people still view district-scale geothermal energy systems as challenging to implement due to incurred drilling expenses and geological uncertainties that may exist underground. When we first investigate the ground conditions in specific areas through fiber optic temperature measurements and other field and laboratory techniques, we can use the resulting data to make improved design decisions, enhance long-term cost-effectiveness, and provide for greater efficiency of district-scale geothermal projects.”

Read more about the CIF geothermal project