Eyes of the nation — and the world — on Ball State as geothermal project moves ahead

Topics: Geothermal, Sustainability/Environment

March 29, 2010

U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar's prediction that the nation and the world would be watching the progress of Ball State University's campus-wide geothermal project is proving correct.

When he delivered the Commencement address in May 2009, just hours before drilling the first ceremonial borehole, Lugar said that the campus "will be swarmed with scientists, engineers, tradesmen, investors and students anxious to learn from your experience."

To date, Ball State has had visits and inquiries from colleges and universities, including Dartmouth, Stanford, Notre Dame Virginia and Ohio State. Tours have been given to delegations from Turkey and television crews from Japan. The U.S. Department of Energy and many trade publications have written features on Ball State's initiative, which is the largest geothermal system of its kind. And answering calls from mainstream press outlets has become part of the standard operating procedure, says Jim Lowe, director of engineering, construction and operations.

"Hardly a week goes by that we don't receive calls from reporters wanting to do more stories," he says. "Getting the word out on Ball State's leadership in alternative energy and educating the public on a geothermal project of this scale is important; so I'll always make time to field their questions."

Nationally, the project has been featured in The New York TimesThe Christian Science MonitorNational Public Radio's "All Things Considered," The Chronicle of Higher Education and many more media outlets.

What reporters are learning is that the ambitious project is moving along on schedule. Phase one will be complete by the fall of 2011. Nearly 1,300 of the initial phase's 1,800 boreholes have been drilled, and work on the field that will serve the Marilyn K. Glick Center for Glass has begun.

"It's worth noting that the Glick center will be the first building on campus that is geothermal heated and cooled," Lowe said. "This world-class hot glass studio is slated to come online this fall."

Also arriving this fall, are two 2,500-ton heat pump chillers. In addition, construction of the north district energy station will begin in May and will be completed in December. Construction of the new hot water distribution system as well as the building modifications and interfaces, needed to connect to the new distribution system, will begin in May and be completed in the summer of 2011, Lowe added.

For more information on the project, to view photos and videos, or to watch a webstream of the construction process, visit www.bsu.edu/geothermal.

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