Geothermal (Part III): Looking Ahead on the U of I’s Urbana-Champaign Campus

Geothermal (Part III): Looking Ahead on the U of I’s Urbana-Champaign Campus

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the final installment of a three-part series on geothermal at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In this installment, we explore the geothermal research conducted at Illinois. Part 1 takes a deep dive into the science of geothermal and its relationship with the University, and Part 2 explores the history and context of geothermal implementation on campus.


As iSEE’s geothermal energy series comes to a close, one thing is clear: The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is a pioneer in this cutting-edge renewable resource. And as the years progress, this will only become more true. In our third installment, we outline two geothermal projects underway on our own campus.


1. The Campus Instructional Facility (CIF)

Artistic rendering of the inside of the CIF.

Coming soon to the Bardeen Quad is the Campus Instructional Facility (CIF). This student instructional facility and gathering place will reside on the quad’s northwest corner, between Grainger Engineering Library and Talbot Laboratory, and will provide a space for students to congregate, collaborate, and swap ideas across all colleges and disciplines.

The U of I’s first public-private partnership project will boast 23 classrooms and team rooms of all shapes and sizes that center on active, personalized education. Flexibility is key: Smaller classrooms can merge together; larger rooms can be pared down; and informal study spaces will host everything from Hackathons and career fairs to post-class coffee chats.

The building itself is set to be just as innovative as the learning taking place inside. Sustainable design elements like daylighting, radiant panels, and air ventilation will not only help the facility obtain LEED Gold certification, but will foster a healthy learning environment as well.

To augment the CIF’s existing efforts (and ideally boost its LEED status to Platinum), a proposal currently in motion seeks to add a geothermal exchange system to the facility’s sustainability repertoire. Funded in part by the Student Sustainability Committee (SSC), this initiative will leverage data gathered from the recently installed Geothermal Monitoring Well to place a geothermal field underneath the west half of the Bardeen Quad. The field will be used to heat and cool the CIF, with the added potential to expand out to the rest of the quad and other locations in the future.

By drawing on earthbound energy that’s available year-round, the CIF is projected to cut back on carbon emissions by 8% and reduce heating-related fossil fuel consumption by 30%. And the benefits of geothermal are educational as well as environmental — with supervision, professors are encouraged to take students on site visits throughout the geothermal construction process, and a portion of SSC funds will be allocated to developing an interactive app that tracks the total amount of fossil fuels saved.

Most importantly, the CIF will serve as a case study for future on-campus geothermal exchange initiatives. As the first of its kind, it has the pioneering potential to set a precedent for a more sustainable future at Illinois.

A testament to the university’s trademark innovation, the CIF is built for students, powered by sustainable design, and — whether you’re a student or faculty member, part of LAS or the College of Engineering — absolutely worth keeping an eye on.

Visit the University of Illinois iCAP website to learn more about the CIF project.


2. Energy Foundations at the Ven Te Chow Hydrosystems Lab

Schematic of Energy Foundations.

Illinois’s second up-and-coming geothermal venture is underway just down the street from the CIF. On the North Quad, plans for the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering’s new Ven Te Chow Hydrosystems Lab include energy foundations.

Energy foundations, a type of shallow geothermal system, provide sustainable, renewable energy resources to heat and cool buildings. They function by circulating fluids through heat exchanger loops installed within deep foundation structural elements, which exchange heat with the shallow subsurface (10-30 meters). These systems are built directly into structures’ foundations, making them more cost-effective and space-efficient than other low-temperature geothermal systems.

When installing energy foundations, timing is key: there can be opportunities to retrofit existing foundations, but installation is easier during (rather than after) construction. When Tugce Baser became a Assistant Professor of Geotechnical Engineering in October 2018, she heard that the Hydrosystems Lab was in for a ground-up rebuild and identified the golden opportunity:

“We have the opportunity now,” said Baser, geothermal systems and energy geotechnics expert and designer of the lab’s energy foundations. “Why not take advantage of it? The foundation is going to be there already, so we just need to add some modifications to the design.”

Baser is excited not only for geothermal’s potential to elevate campus sustainability and reduce carbon emissions, but for the ripple effects it has in store for students, researchers, and future change-makers.

“This is a huge step for the University of Illinois, and everyone is really excited. Our job is to set a good example for the future — teaching students how to install energy foundations, for example. Every single day, every single lecture, my students actually see the (Hydrosystems Lab) construction from our window, and we talk about it. Students are the future — (they) are the ones who are going to make a change.”

Baser is using her own funds to instrument the energy foundations to investigate the performance. Contributions to existing knowledge will include a long-term field-scale experiment and related data, numerical modelling strategies and guidelines for design and operation for the Illinois campus.

Baser emphasized that the energy foundation project wouldn’t be possible without the support of Facilities & Services, particularly Executive Director Mohamed Attalla.


— Article by iSEE Communications Specialist Jenna Kurtzweil