Geothermal: Leading the Way in Alternative Energy

When Ball State broke ground on our geothermal system in May 2009, we also broke ground in the field of alternative energy.

We are the first institution to construct a ground-source geothermal system of this scale—the largest in the nation—more than 45 buildings on our 660-acre campus.

Tapping the Earth’s constant temperature, this system makes sense fiscally and environmentally. When it's fully implemented, the geothermal system will replace four aging coal boilers, saving us $2 million per year in operating costs and cutting our carbon footprint roughly in half.

Calling our project “unique and ambitious,” U.S. Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana may have said it best when he spoke to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee days after the groundbreaking ceremony, in which he drilled the first borehole.

“The Ball State geothermal project provides a practical, real-world example of how large-scale alternative energy projects are now economically viable—today,” he said.

“I'm confident that when other universities, businesses, institutions see what’s happening in Muncie with American-built equipment, they’ll be asking how they may put that technology to work for themselves.”

It wasn’t long before we had high-profile visits and inquiries such as representatives of Dartmouth College and Stanford University as well as a delegation from Isparta, Turkey.

National, even international, media also have taken notice. In fact, The New York Times described our system as “pioneering.” Our project has also been featured by The Christian Science Monitor, The Chronicle for Higher Education, NPR, TV Toyko, the Chicago Tribune, Inside Higher Ed, and many more media outlets.

Going geothermal is another step in our longtime commitment to the environment, recognized by Lugar when he bestowed the August 2007 Energy Patriot Award to our Council on the Environment, the longest-standing green committee in Indiana higher education.

Lugar, a proponent of greater U.S. energy efficiency and independence, not only endorsed our project, his office was instrumental in connecting Ball State officials with geothermal experts from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). In October 2009, his office announced that the U.S. Department of Energy awarded Ball State $5 million, the maximum allowable grant, for this innovative initiative.

Our system will use about 4,100 boreholes, along with two energy stations, existing district loops of hot and cold water, and other components. Yet most of this extensive network will be out of sight when construction is finished.

The borehole fields will revert to their original use as a parking lot or sports field, and the beauty of the campus landscape will be restored. Plus faculty, staff, and students will not notice any changes in the buildings’ comfort level.

Learn more about our bold initiative in alternative energy. And read more about how we are achieving our strategic objectives related to a vibrant, sustainable campus.

Goal 4, Objective E: By 2012, complete renewal of the Central Utility Plant.