New geothermal boilers being installed at Ball State

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MUNCIE, Ind.--- As the cost escalated for the replacement of aging boilers, along with newer EPA regulations, Ball State University looked at other avenues to cut costs, yet still provide power for a campus, now spanning nearly 5.5 million square feet.

The last of the coal reserves were brought into boilers at Ball State University's Southside Power Plant on March 19, idling the final two coal-fired boilers, which helped produce steam for the past 70 years.

“We certainly looked at coal-fired again with all kinds of emission control equipment and so forth," said Jim Lowe, Director of Engineering & Construction Management. "We also looked at all natural gas, but actually deferred away from natural gas, which seems ironic when you think about it. It's cheap, but it's so volatile.”

What they chose is to make Ball State the owner of the largest close looped system of its kind in the nation.

“Going to geothermal, by far, was the best approach - not just financially, but for the environmental impact and the longevity of the system as well,” Lowe said.

An investment from the university, along with government and state grants, will create over 2300 jobs and save nearly $2 million in annual operating costs. The new geothermal system will essentially pay for itself seven to eight fold over time.

“So think about it. If you could take a dollar and get 8 dollars back, well, it's no question what you'd do,” Lowe said.

Upon completion of this campus-wide geothermal system in 2016, Ball State University will cut its carbon footprint in half and reduce carbon dioxide input into the atmosphere by 85,000 tons.

But how does it all work?

There are four key components of the system, the first of which is borehold fields. They'll transform the university landscape with a system of pipes, installed vertically into the ground. Fresh water will flow through them.

Warm water is circulated through the series of U-shaped pipes 400-500 feet beneath the surface. Because the earth has the ability to maintain a constant temperature, it is ideal for the process of cooling water running through pipes during the warmer months. During the winter months, the process works the same way but in reverse.

Energy stations on the north and south sides of campus contain equipment that take most of the work in making the campus green. Heat pump chillers move energy like a refrigerator, moving heat and energy where needed on campus.

Two separate district loops provide the distribution of water for heating and cooling purposes. Both of these loops will eventually connect to 47 buildings, where new interfaces on campus can meet the needs of staff and students.

In the future, the university hopes to create a co-efficient with new equipment - a feat which will make this midwestern university 'environmentally redefined'.