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Demonstration of Low-Temperature Geothermal Energy Utilization in the Eastern United States

Cornell University has proposed to develop a potential geothermal energy resource for the production of campus power and heat in Ithaca, New York. Geothermal energy is a fundamental part of Cornell’s Climate Action Plan (http://www.sustainablecampus.cornell.edu/initiatives/enhanced-geothermal-system), which seeks to completely eliminate Cornell’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions attributed to operation of the campus by no later than 2050.

Cornell’s plan would result in an institutional-scale, publicly-accessible demonstration of low-temperature geothermal energy use suitable for replication by any large institution or industry. The proposed system would include multiple production wells reaching up to approximately 16,400 feet (nearly 5 kilometers) below ground surface into the local crystalline “basement”. Geothermal energy would feed a combined heat and power facility utilizing organic Rankine-cycle (or similar) engines, plate-and-frame heat exchangers, and heat pumps (as needed). Acquired thermal and electrical energy can be directly interconnected to Cornell’s existing district energy system. Overall, this program features multiple concurrent, cross-disciplinary research opportunities suitable for collaborative research at the national level.

This is an innovative technology that presents new risks compared to conventional energy sources; as a result, funding this effort is a challenge.  Initial attempts to fund this project through a national geothermal program has proven unsuccessful, as less innovative, and thus less risky, systems in the Western US have been funded instead.  Those Western sites had the advantage of proven heat resources and less expensive implementations.  Nevertheless, Cornell continues to work to communicate the regional value of geothermal resources and will continue efforts to seek funding to move this project forward, starting with a comprehensive feasibility and environmental study, in the next few years.