University of Illinois set to install new geothermal system

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URBANA, Ill. (AP) The University of Illinois is embedding a new geothermal heating and cooling system in the foundation of an addition to its engineering campus as part of an effort to decrease greenhouse gas emissions.

Officials noted that geothermal systems use the continuous subterranean temperature to provide heating and cooling at very high efficiencies, circulating liquid through heat exchangers in the ground leading to the new building's heat pump. Heat exchangers are the devices used to transfer heat between two or more fluids. In the UI project, the heat exchange happens between surrounding soil and energy foundations.

The project will install geothermal heat exchanger loops in the foundation of a "smart" pedestrian bridge, The News-Gazette reported. The bridge will link the 13,000-square-foot (around 1,200-square-meter) Hydrosystems Laboratory extension to the Newmark Civil Engineering Laboratory.

Mohamed Attalla, executive director of facilities and services at UI, said the installation method costs around $240,000, which is about 30% to 40% cheaper than drilling holes for a geothermal "field system."

"It's a fairly new technology. The university will be the first in the nation to have this kind of research going on in our work here," said Attalla, who worked on the project. "It's part of our renewable energy strategy."

Under the Illinois Climate Action Plan, the university in Urbana has pledged to be carbon-neutral by 2050. Atalla added that the real worth of the project is long-term, as researchers learn how the system performs.

"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," he said.

During installation, assistant engineering professor Tugce Baser said she will set up sensors to measure the temperature and strains within the foundations to evaluate the system's efficiency.

The roughly $33.6 million system revamp is expected to be finished in the summer of 2020.

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Information from: The News-Gazette, http://www.news-gazette.com

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