Campus Expanding Geothermal Option with Foundations at Hydrosystems Lab

Geothermal energy foundations will be installed this summer as part of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering’s (CEE) Ven Te Chow Hydrosystems Laboratory addition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Substantial completion of the renovation is expected in Summer 2020.

This innovative method of reducing greenhouse gas emissions will incorporate conventional geothermal heat exchanger loops in the foundation of a new “smart” suspension pedestrian bridge that will connect the laboratory addition to the Newmark Civil Engineering Laboratory across Main Street in Urbana. The construction method will use 50-foot-deep drilled shaft foundations to reduce overall geothermal installation costs and provide for onsite research, as well as heat and cool a new instructional geotechnical laboratory in the building for faculty including Tugce Baser, Assistant Professor of CEE.

“This project will provide an invaluable opportunity for the university to conduct a scalability study from lessons learned during the installation and an excellent basis for a fundamental understanding of the operational response of the energy foundations,” Baser said.

Geothermal systems use the relatively constant underground temperature to provide heating and cooling at remarkably high efficiencies. The system functions by circulating fluid through heat exchangers in the ground leading to a heat pump in the building.

During installation, Baser will instrument the drilled shafts with thermistors and strain gauges to measure axial and radial strains, as well as temperature profiles, within the foundations. The data set from this installation will enable the evaluation of operational thermomechanical properties. Further, the data collected from this project will be used as an input for analyses by students in the graduate-level CEE 585 Deep Foundations course.

“The outcomes of this project will be converted into design guidelines for future installation of energy foundations, which will significantly contribute to the sustainability of the campus,” said Mohamed Attalla, Executive Director of Facilities & Services (F&S).

The $240,000 project is funded jointly by F&S and the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE) using the Carbon Credit Sales Fund; CEE; and a grant from the Student Sustainability Committee (SSC).

Through the Illinois Climate Action Plan (iCAP), the U of I has committed to achieving carbon neutrality by no later than 2050, and geothermal energy is one of several strategies the campus is exploring to reduce its environmental impact.

iSEE also seed-funded Baser’s scalability study as part of its Campus as a Living Laboratory program. Her research data gained at the laboratory site will further explore this state-of-the-art approach, inform the campus on the viability of geothermal, and help lead to additional installations on campus.

More information about campus sustainability efforts is available online at the iCAP Portal.