[AUDIO LOGO] LYNDEN ARCHER: All right. So good, good, good, good. So it's almost there. We are almost at time. And I can actually say a warm good afternoon to everybody because today is quite uncharacteristically warm. And in particular to say thanks for joining us, for those of you who were able to make it in person and those who are in Zoom.
So I'm Lynden Archer. I am the Dean of Engineering and Co-Chair of the Cornell Sustainable Campus Committee. Now let me begin today's event by saying just how excited I am to be able to introduce this update for the Cornell University Borehole Observatory, or CUBO, as we call it.
Now after many years of studying available geology data, both of the region and beneath the Ithaca campus, it became clear to all of us that we needed to take the next step to verify our assumptions. We needed to determine whether the heat output, permeability, and mechanics of the rock below Ithaca were conducive to creating an accessible reservoir of geothermal energy, a reservoir that could be used to provide a carbon-free source of baseload thermal energy to reliably heat the Ithaca campus.
Now this summer, as many of you know, the university took an important step forward by developing a nearly two-mile-deep Earth Observatory that would help us make this assessment. Now let me be clear. CUBO is not a geothermal well. In fact, as our colleague Tony Ingraffea, who was unable to join us tonight, would say, the only thing that will come out of this well is knowledge and information.
CUBO is, in fact, explicitly designed to be a permanent, highly instrumented observatory of deep earth processes right here on campus. Our goal is that it will perhaps in time emerge as a signature component in our campus research infrastructure for studying our Earth.
Now with that said, however, I know that in the near term data gathered from CUBO will be used to determine if the conditions are right to move forward with our vision of a deep direct use geothermal energy system for the campus. Access the large reserves of Earth source heat is, in fact, broadly interesting beyond the Cornell campus community, particularly at a time when humanity is called upon to dramatically reduce carbon emissions across pretty much all economic and societal sectors.
Their progress, therefore, has potential not only for helping Cornell meet the carbon neutrality goals in its 2035 Climate Action Plan, but also holds promise for creating a new, scalable energy source capable of sustainably meeting complex heating needs in cold climate regions across the world. This evening, you'll hear from members of the CUBO project team who will describe highlights from the construction process, including project safety, seismic and water monitoring, the geology beneath our campus, and potential next steps.
Before we delve into these details, though, I must say that I am pleased-- in fact, personally pleased-- to report that the early data garnered from CUBO are promising. It nevertheless will take time to complete our work with researchers on campus and industry partners to understand the parameters required to design and build a functioning demonstration project composed of a pair of wells, as illustrated in the graphic.
But before handing it over to our panelists, I also wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the partnerships we built with the surrounding community throughout this process. It was a priority, in fact, for our team to approach every phase of the project as transparently as possible. From forming an advisory committee made up of local community members to holding weekly office hours at the Borehole site, to provide weekly updates on the CUBO observatory construction process, we wanted to create opportunities for everyone to learn together and to ask questions.
It is, in fact, something of an understatement to say that the levels of engagement were consistent and tremendous. A good example, perhaps, of best practices we could learn as we formulate the next steps in developing a well pair. Now I know that we've already been contacted by others who are interested in learning from our example and in assessing if a direct use deep geothermal system might work for them.
Also, a special thank you to everybody who submitted questions in advance of today's event. For those of you who were unable to submit questions, I request that you hold off with your questions until the very end where we'll have a hopefully robust Q&A session.
So now allow me to introduce the expert panelists who you are going to hear from tonight, both in the direct session as well as in the Q&A. So first, Ole Gustafson. So Ole, can you please stand? He is a professional geologist with experience in supporting and planning sustainable geothermal heating and cooling systems. We are lucky to have him here on our team.
Geoff Abers. So Geoff is the William and Katherine Sneed Professor in Geological Sciences and Chair of the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, which spans the College of Engineering and CALS. Thank you, Geoff.
Terry Jordan. So Terry is the Preston Levis Professor of Engineering Emeritus. Patrick Fulton. Pat is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and a Croll Sesquicentennial Chair in Engineering.
Jeff Tester. Jeff needs no introduction. Jeff is a Professor in the Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and also a Croll Sesquicentennial Fellow. And finally, my compatriot, Rick Burgess, who is the Vice President for Facilities and Campus Services and Co-Chair of the Sustainable Cornell Council.
So we're going to have a pretty engaging set of conversations tonight, and we're going to kick it off with Ole, who's going to share information on the CUBO construction process, as well as the operational safety of the project. So Ole, take it away, please.
OLE GUSTAFSON: All right. Thank you very much. So yeah, my name's Ole Gustafson. I'm a professional geologist, as Lynden just described. And I'm going to go over the construction of the well, the drilling process, and some of our safety and environmental efforts related to that.
So on the upper left, that's an aerial view of the project site where we did the drilling. And when we were thinking about doing this, we did a survey of available land near campus that might be a suitable place to set up a major drilling operation like this. And this site emerged as the most suitable location.
It was actually a really good location for this. We needed something that was several acres in size to be able to bring in all the components of the drill rig and the supporting equipment that goes with it.
And we had this four-acre parking lot out east of campus off of Palm Road that was already used-- you can see here. This is the pre-drilling condition of it. It was full of all kinds of construction equipment and storage for supporting construction projects around campus. So it was already a developed site that was really ideal for bringing in the drill rig.
So some of the other considerations for site selection were really to make sure that we minimized adverse impacts. Once again, we were using an existing parking lot, so we didn't have to go and cut down trees or strip topsoil or anything like that.
And its location was adjacent to campus, just across the street from the greenhouses and the Vet College, but not too close. So we weren't adjacent to sensitive facilities or residences that might have been disrupted by the construction activities. But it is near campus and also near Route 366 you can see in this map here, which was a big advantage to bringing in all the equipment and setting it up right off of this major state highway without having to drive through residential areas with trucks and all of that.
Another advantage to the site is that this area is served by our campus electrical grid. So many of you know, or maybe some of you don't, that we generate all of our own electricity for campus, and we have high-capacity lines out here. And what that allowed us to do was to replace the diesel generators that usually are used in these drilling operations with direct power from the grid.
Usually, the grid-- the rig and all its motors and pumps and everything, they're usually electrically driven, but the typical setup uses big generators to generate that electricity at the site. But we were able to bypass that whole process and avoid the noise and emissions associated with diesel generators.
Other aspects that people often think about or ask about was water usage. It was quite minimal for this project, and water was supplied from our campus utility water supply.
Waste materials. The primary waste material from a drilling operation is the drill cuttings. That's the bits of rock that get ground up by the drill and brought up to the surface and need to be taken care of. Those were all tested to make sure they had no contaminants and then they were taken off to a landfill for disposal.
Water monitoring. I'll talk about this a little bit more in a subsequent slide, but that was-- a high priority for us was to ensure that we minimized any environmental impacts. And so surface water and groundwater quality, first of all, we set a very high bar for the contractors doing the work to make sure that they followed robust procedures to protect the environment. And second of all, we did quite a bit of monitoring just to make sure that that was the case.
And finally, noise, light, and traffic impacts. There were some impacts. There always are with a construction operation. But we were able to minimize those and keep them much lower than often is the case for drilling operations of this type.
So this figure here just shows some of the adjacencies around the site for different types of sensitive locations and things. For example, water wells. We didn't have any drinking water wells for almost a mile from the site. Once again, we didn't expect to impact groundwater, but it's always good to have those kind of buffer zones.
So these images show some stages of the operation. On the left was what was called the conductor installation. So that was installing a large diameter kind of culvert that was the first stage of the drilling operation. That then allows the main rig to come in and set up and get going right away on a nice, firm, established starting well.
And so this was after all the construction, storage stuff had been cleared from the site, and then we came in and did the conductor installation. Then a couple months after that they started bringing in all the components for the full drill rig. And they had a couple of cranes and assembled that all together. That took about a week to put that all together.
And one thing you can see here, underneath and on this other image as well, this tan material, these are mats, and underneath that is a liner that was installed. Just in case there's any spills of lubricating oils or fuel from a vehicle or something, we would have a way to contain it and clean it up without environmental impacts. And we didn't see any issues like that, but once again, we tried to take every precaution to ensure that there weren't environmental impacts.
Another aspect of the safety of the operation was the design of the well itself, which you can see on the right. And we needed to drill down to-- about 10,000 feet was our goal. And the bottom couple of thousand feet of that was really our target zone of interest for exploration for geothermal development.
But to get down to 8,000 feet, you have to drill through everything above it. And that includes things like the Syracuse salt beds and the Marcellus Shale that has natural gas in it, things like that. And Dr. Jordan will talk about that in a little bit.
But we wanted to make sure that as we went through those zones that we used the best practices to drill through them safely, to get them cased off with steel casing and cement, sealed up so that as we continued down there wouldn't be any opportunity for salty brines or natural gas or anything to enter into the well or migrate around.
And as the result of all this, we had no safety or environmental incidents during the project. Our monitoring of groundwater and some wells we had installed near the site specifically for that purpose, as well as monitoring Cascadilla Creek showed no change in water quality during or after the project.
And we also have, during the project and still available online, information about the drilling process and the data collection. And this will be continually updated as we do our data analysis. And people are encouraged to go look for those websites.
So now after the rig went away, we cleared everything out and there's not a whole lot to see there. It's a little disappointing, actually. People want to go and visit the site and see this big project they've heard about, and pretty much this is what's left is what we lovingly call the big red fire hydrant, which is just a big valve that sits on top of the well and allows us to keep it shut, but open it for access for future experiments and things like that. And that's where I'll hand it off to Professor Geoff Abers.
GEOFF ABERS: Hi. So I'm Geoff Abers. Beyond the titles, I am an earthquake seismologist by research, and so I'm going to talk a bit about the seismic monitoring that we were doing in conjunction with the CUBO drilling.
The basic-- because there are concerns related to earthquakes, this project, we wanted to start well before CUBO, instrumenting the area around CUBO and actually all around Ithaca to get a sense of what the background earthquake activity is in the area. This hadn't really been done before.
So starting in about mid-2019, we've instrumented and we've been recording ever since then. Very tiny earthquakes happen everywhere in the continents. This gives us a background level so we can see if anything unusual happens during the drilling.
The main point, we didn't actually expect to see anything in CUBO. And we didn't actually see anything unusual there because all that's really happening is we're drilling and pulling knowledge out of the hole, as Lynden said. CUBO is an observation hole. It's not affecting the stresses and the strengths of the rocks in large areas around the well itself.
And so this is mostly just really a proof of concept that we can do this kind of monitoring. And the idea is that this would continue, or some version of it would continue should any further drilling occur.
This is a map on the right. And the right's showing what this network looks like. Each of these triangles was a place where we had seismic equipment in the ground. There's 15 of them in all. The pictures show what some of this looks like. There's a solar panel charging some electronics. There's a sensor that's buried in the ground that detects very tiny ground motions.
The important thing, all of this is built and operated by an independent contractor, ARA. They keep the equipment maintained. All the signals telemeter to their base. They detect the earthquakes and provide us back with the catalogs. The catalogs themselves and the reports are all available on the Earth Source Heat Cornell web pages. And there's actually ways that you can get to all the raw signals that were recorded for the last three years from this project.
And this is sort of what they found. So the map on the right, again, shows CUBO as the center of the drilling at the center of the circles. The black upside-down triangles are where the seismometers are.
We recorded in this area something like 105 events. All the purple circles are events that occurred before CUBO drilling, and the red ones are ones that occurred during CUBO drilling. And the figure on the side shows a time history since the beginning of 2020 showing events versus magnitude.
And again, I think this emphasizes that while events did occur during CUBO, they occurred at about the rate that we've been seeing them for the whole time, and they occurred in places where you can see them. And you see there's actually no seismicity within a couple-- a mile or two of the CUBO well, sites that we saw either during or before.
There's two main points I think. That's one, that we're not seeing anything at all unusual in this process. The second is that these are very, very, very small events. The largest thing we recorded in this whole two-and-a-half period is about a magnitude 1. Most of these are magnitude 0s or smaller.
Magnitude scale is logarithmic, so each step in magnitude turns out to be about a factor of 30 in the energy that's released. A magnitude of 0 is about the energy that it takes-- if you take a block of rock, it's about a half a ton, about this big around, and you drop and it falls, say, 100 feet, like you might imagine a rock fall into a gorge. And some of these things may, in fact, be rock falls for all we know.
So that gives us a sense of we're able to record these really tiny events that also give us a lot of confidence that we are able to monitor should there be things to monitor. But during the CUBO exercise, there really hasn't been much else. I think at this point, I'm going turn this over to Professor Jordan.
TERRY JORDAN: OK. So I'm the first of the two parts of describing our geological findings. Are you-- oh. Where did this go? OK, thank you. And Patrick Fulton will follow me on that.
So over the course of the summer, most of the data coming out of the borehole were the physical rock pieces. But right in the last 10 days, we began to have the ability to go into the borehole and measure numerous rock properties.
We had the necessity during the course of the summer or while the drilling was going on to determine whether the design of the borehole with its casing, the cementing, was lining up right with the geological units that we were supposed to be using the casings to protect from.
For instance, we had a plan for, where would we put this casing bottom here, depending on where the Syracuse salt was? But it was all predictive. So this is what we found, and it matches well to our casing plan, what we had gone in with our prediction being.
It was not 100% the same. We thought the Syracuse salt might be a little shallower than it was. But that's fine. We're studying the solids as they came out of the ground. Able to adjust the engineering plan. And when we got down into the deeper part of the well, basically our predictions were right on.
We had also predicted that we might have three different particularly suitable target zones for the geothermal production. This was based on the wells, the oil and gas experiences throughout Central New York. When we actually could drill it, oh, we did find three prospective zones, not quite where we thought they would be, which was the reason we needed to drill a hole because everything was prediction and we needed data.
So we now know the progression through depth. When it comes to designing future wells for an Earth Source Heat demonstration project, we now have excellent knowledge of how to design and where to-- how to budget for the well because we have all this experience. But as to what we learned that was vital to the decisions, I'm going to turn this over to my colleague, Patrick Fulton.
PATRICK FULTON: Thanks, Terry. My name's Patrick Fulton. This is not me, even though I have long hair. This is one of our undergraduate researchers out at the site, collecting some of the rocks that let us know exactly what rock units we were going through. But I'm going to talk about hydrology, temperature, and what we're up to right now.
One of the things-- many reasons that we tried to figure out and go down there to try to see if this is worthwhile to explore and use for geothermal is, what is the temperature down there? This is one of the logs that we've got in temperature here. But then just the next day we did another log. Here's another one. It's a little bit hotter. Another log here. These are kind of focused down towards the bottom here. We've got a number of different logs here.
But when we drilled the well, we kind of cooled it off with all the water that we were circulating to get all those broken up rocks. So it's kind of re-equilibrating. The temperature is kind of warming back up.
So we can see where there are different gradients here that's largely controlled by the thermal conductivity of the rocks. But we largely know what the temperatures are, and we can extrapolate to try to figure out what the temperature is once it's kind of re-equilibrated here.
And largely-- oops. Largely we get at least a temperature of 77 degrees there. We've extrapolated. It's at least 82 degrees down there right now, or in the rocks itself. In a few weeks we're going to install a series of sensors, a series of fiber optic cables that essentially can use a laser beam, and you shoot the laser on the light in the cable, and it back scatters on all the little impurities and glass in the light and everything.
And the wavelength that comes back on those little reflections of light that come back tell us what the temperature is at all different depths. And so we can do that a gazillion times a second. Well, maybe not a gazillion.
But we can do that, lots of things. And we get temperature as a function of depth over time. We can see a lot clearly how it's re-equilibrated, what the true temperature is down there. But largely, it's consistent with what we were expecting down here, between 80 to 90 degrees down at the bottom of the hole, which is good news for our plans for geothermal heat.
But it's not just the temperature, and I think there's some questions about this. It's not just the temperature that we need to know down there. And this is why it was important to know something about the particular rocks and why we might have different reservoirs. We need to actually be able to flow water underground from one well to the other one, flow that water through so it can absorb lots of heat. And you inject cold water. Flows through, absorbs heat, pull up hot water in the other zone here.
Most of our rocks here, pretty low permeability. Not really easy to flow water through except when there's fractures. If you look in the Gorges or you're going over one of the bridges, you look down, you'll see that there are some fractures and cracks naturally in the rocks there.
And so what we're looking for are fractures in the rocks. What are the zones? What are the rock units that have lots of natural fractures? Where they have lots of them, maybe they can connect up. We can use them to flow the water through.
So one of the cool things-- well, there's many cool things. But one of the cool things we did was that when we drilled the well, we essentially took an ultrasound, 360-degree ultrasound image of the rocks. We also used it with a resistivity-based one.
So this is actually one of those 360-degree images of the walls of the thing. You can use a picture down there with a GoPro, but you can't really see down there. It's pretty muddy and other things. So we use ultrasound or resistivity-based things.
And here where you can see the darker lines-- well, one, you see the horizontal lines. Those are just the different geologic layers down here. And then when you see the steeply dipping ones-- some of them might look like a sinusoid-- those are fractures.
And they're oriented we know northeast-southwest which direction they are, so we can tell actually what direction a fracture is intersecting that hole. And how steep is the dip, and what orientation is it? So that allows us to know essentially where there's lots of them, what fractures they are, what direction we might want to put our well set so we could connect those things together.
So here is kind of a map of-- those are our different rock layers. They're not really blue, but they're kind of gray, but it makes it look a lot prettier here. Down at the bottom we have all these things up in yellow and blue. Those are kind of like rocks we see in the gorge. Dolomites, limestone, shales.
Down at the bottom, these are metamorphic rocks, crystalline rocks. It's kind of similar to what you would make like the curbs around here. It's very nice. We have really nice metamorphic curbing and granite curbing on Cornell's campus.
But then we've mapped all these fractures in here. And this is just kind of showing the density. They're binned in 50-foot bins here. And you can see where the biggest amounts of fractures are. And they correlate with what we think-- well, for good reason we've identified those zones as potential targets for maybe allowing us to have flow in there.
It's one thing to have a bunch of fractures, but maybe they're all sealed up with glue or geologic glue like calcite veins or quartz or something like that. So we want to know, are they open? Can they actually conduct fluid?
So one of the things that we did was when we were drilling the hole, we had some monitoring of just the natural kind of fluids that were coming out of the hole, some kind of inorganic gases like hydrogen and helium. Really tiny trace amounts in it, naturally produced by the rocks pretty much everywhere.
But when we see concentrations of them, it means that actually those gases are able to find permeable spots and flow back into the well. And so here are places where we saw big kind of spikes in hydrogen or helium in relatively big spikes. Still very trace amounts. We're not going to make this into a helium reserve or something, production well. But that also suggested that maybe these fractures that are there are also somewhat permeable. A little bit.
We did some tests too where we tried to pull water out of the well, kind of like you would do in a well test for a shallow groundwater well. Pulled a lot of water out. See if we could produce water out of it. It didn't produce much out of it.
And then we put that water back in. We collected it in big tanks. And instead of disposing of it, we just put it back in. And then we tried to push it back in, and it wasn't really-- oops. It wasn't really taking water that well.
But we did look at the temperature data when we did those tests, tried to see some zones. Maybe we could see where the water was going in and other things. There are some indications that although it did not flow that much and wasn't super permeable that some of these fractures do take water. And that's what I've got.
RICH BURGESS: While Jeff is coming up-- can you hear me? Yeah? All right. Rick Burgess. While Jeff is coming up and getting set up, we have some three-by-five cards here. If you'd like to submit a question, I would ask that you write it down. And we have a number of questions that have either come in online beforehand or during the Zoom call, which we'll also incorporate. But just wanted to give you a heads up on that so we can pass the cards around and you'll be ready. Thanks.
JEFFERSON TESTER: OK. Thank you, Rick. Well, you've heard a lot about all the science associated with CUBO and a lot of questions about what we need to do to make this work. And it's important to think of what the impacts might be not only for us here in demonstrating what Cornell's trying to do, but does it really matter for the rest of the country?
Dean Archer alluded to this a little bit in his introductory remarks, but it's one thing to think about. This map that we show here, kind of a heat map, gives you a rough idea of the sort of northern tier of the country.
Not just New York or New England, but across the whole northern tier. There's a significant amount of heat consumption that goes on. And if you actually look at where that heat comes from, it's essentially-- almost all of it comes from combustion-based processes that involve natural gas, to some extent oil in the Northeast as we have here, and remotely sometimes propane.
But if we're going to transition to a carbon-- or low-carbon future, we're going to have to do something about that. And we are not set up right now across the country to do district heating. Fortunately, Cornell is, and it represents a really logical place to carry out this first demonstration.
There's been a lot of collaboration that has to go on and will have to continue to go on with industry partners. We're not going to be the developer of geothermal for the rest of the country for sure, or for New York State for that matter. This industry has been around for a long time in the United States, but almost all of it has been focused on electricity generation, not necessarily direct heat.
Although the United States was the first in the world to have a district heating system, they didn't do much. That was about 20 years or so after the Civil War in Boise, Idaho. They didn't do much to expand it because we had all these other Resources and nobody in the late 1800s or early 1900s as the US developed were worried about climate change or CO2 emissions at that point. That's all changed.
And I think an important point that you've heard from many of the speakers is that CUBO is distinctly different. Although it's an exploration well in one sense for geothermal, it really is a laboratory. And regardless of what happens, it will always be there as a place where we can train students, we can involve faculty, we can do some things that wouldn't be possible at a normal site that's being used for industrial purposes or for heating. So that represents the ability to carry on a monitoring function as well as a de-risking function as we go forward with what we're trying to do.
So the next steps. You've heard a lot about the details of what we know now from characterizing the subsurface, from drilling the hole, from learning by doing in terms of drilling, but we still have to validate a lot of this stuff at the scale that's going to be needed to extract heat.
And so most of that is centered on three things that you need for any geothermal system, which is have to have temperature. We certainly have that sufficient for providing heat for the campus. You have to have a lot of flow. And you want a lot of flow per well pair, if you will, to keep the economics reasonable. And that's what we don't know yet as to what we could do in terms of that well pair that would have to go forward.
And the third is it's got to last for a long enough period of time. And that has a lot to do with how much contact we have with the rock surfaces. What will those fractures look like when they're activated and we're actually flowing water across that large space that we've shown in the schematic in the beginning between an injection well and a production well? So we're hoping that will come out soon.
To do this, it costs a lot of money not just to drill one hole, but several wells that we're going to have to drill. This will not come from a single source for sure, but we're certainly glad that we've had the support of the federal government so far and the US Department of Energy.
But I think as we go forward, it will have to involve more partnerships with companies, as well as with our state organizations, and we're looking forward to forming those. And we're in the process of doing that right now as we plan to submit a proposal that's upcoming from the Department of Energy that will probably involve some cost share, but also the ability to get industrial people who are familiar with this to help us design this well and to move us forward in a cooperative manner I think this is about it. There we go. Thank you.
RICH BURGESS: OK. So Rick Burgess. There's no name on there. This is actually an endowment opportunity if anybody would like to endow my position. It's available. Everybody doing all right? I know it's getting into dinnertime. These guys brought their dinner. I saw them chowing down beforehand. So they did not bring enough to share, and we're getting into supper time.
We're scheduled to run through 6:30. I misspoke when I said 7:00 earlier when I was talking to you, sir. So through 6:30. So we have a good 25 minutes to go through some questions and answers.
And I'm going to moderate. So I'm actually going to be choosing the right person here of our cast of subject matter experts to hand some of these questions off.
I know we were collecting cards, which we'll-- but let's get started because we've got some online already beforehand. And I'll lead with the first one, and this one actually is for Patrick Fulton.
We have received several questions about how the proposed system would be expected to remain effective over time. Will the effectiveness of the heat source decay over time? And if so, what is the projected rate of decline? Likewise, if the water quality decreases over time, how would the team improve water flow in the system?
And then there's a related one, which I'll also ask Patrick to touch on. What is the hardest part of implementation, assuming all the funding is secure?
PATRICK FULTON: Great, thanks. So I think part of it goes to that last question there. What's the hardest part of the feasibility of this? The real big technical uncertainty here is really the rock center ground. So we talked about injecting cold water into one well, letting it flow underground, pull it out from another well. You could just connect the two wells with just a pipe, and some people tried to do that.
The issue with that is that you don't have a lot of surface area, just like with your radiator or something. You want a lot of surface area. So essentially, it's all through diffusion. You're collecting heat from the rocks. If you have a small surface area, you cool off the rocks around it and then it's hard to get more heat onto there. It's cooled off. And then after pretty soon, inject cold water, you get cold water out. You don't have a lot of heat to pull out there.
You need a lot of surface area so that you can essentially have lots of different places where you can absorb that heat. And that's the technical uncertainty. And that's why we're looking for fractures down there where we can make or use a lot of natural surface area, lots of plains, lots of interconnected things. Allow that water to go over lots of different spots to collect that heat.
The thing about the timeline here is if you have a small surface area, then you extract that heat and you extract it way quicker than it can naturally recharge or otherwise, and you very quickly start producing cold water. So if you have a big surface area, you'll be collecting lots of heat over a little bit from each little spot, and it can naturally kind of keep up a little bit because there's always heat coming through the Earth. And so you can actually allow these things to last for 10, 15, 20 years.
In our planning on this and how we're trying to design the reservoir in the future, we want to be able to continue to produce off of this potential well pair for 10, 15 years with a very slight, very small temperature decline over time. But that really requires us to try to find and optimize the amount of surface area that we go down there.
The other question was about the fluid flow, if the fluid flow starts to break down or lessen and things like that. We're studying now the geochemistry. What are the waters that are down there? What are the rocks themselves? Are they going to just kind of fill up with precipitates and get a lot of salt buildup on things like that? We're trying to make sure that whatever we design in the system, we can make sure that it tries to avoid that.
JEFFERSON TESTER: OK. Thanks, Patrick. All right the next one is for Ole. We have received several questions about the capacity of the proposed system. What is the capacity of this Earth Source Heat system expected to be? And will it heat only a portion of the Ithaca campus, all of the Ithaca campus, or would it have more than enough energy to heat the campus and possibly other areas in the municipality of Ithaca?
OLE GUSTAFSON: Sure. And then I saw there was a related question about, how many wells would we need to drill to do this approach? So as other people have alluded to, we are pretty confident now about the fact that we have sufficient temperatures at depth to generate heat. The big question is, can we flow a sufficient amount of water through rock and have it, as Patrick was describing, contact a lot of surface area so it gets heated up and get that pumped out to produce enough heat volume to be worthwhile and economical?
So that's really something we don't know the answer to that yet. We're analyzing the data we got from CUBO, which is beginning to shed a light on that. And we're going to be doing some pretty sophisticated modeling, using all of the data we've collected that will help predict what sort of fracture patterns we would need to have to produce sustainable amounts of heat.
So really, the number of well pairs that would be required and the amount of heat that we get out of the ground is still kind of up in the air. And we would certainly hope to get, I think some of our-- really, they were just guesses early in our feasibility study really, just kind of saying, here's some numbers we think aren't crazy, that could be achievable. Showed that one well pair might meet 20%-- could potentially meet 20% of the campus heating needs. But that was given some relatively favorable assumptions.
So if we were to hit that, that would be great. That would be a number we could work with. So in that scenario, you would have several well pairs to produce the majority of the heat from campus. But as I said, this is all very preliminary. We have to complete our data analysis and modeling to really nail that down.
RICH BURGESS: And before you hand off the mic, Ole, would the holes be grouped or would they be spread out in different parts of the campus?
OLE GUSTAFSON: Yeah, yeah. Great question. The neat thing about modern drilling technology is they can drill directionally. CUBO was a vertical well, but most oil and gas wells nowadays are drilled with horizontal sections. And that allows you to start at one location and then go horizontally in different directions with different well pairs. So we would expect that we would continue drilling at the site where we started with CUBO, and we would just be able to go off in different directions.
And I'll just jump ahead. I saw there was a question about property lines and extracting heat. That's another reason that we-- why we chose the location we did for CUBO. It's kind of in the middle a lot of land that's owned by Cornell. So should we continue developing there and actually start producing heat, we have a lot of space around that location to drill and collect heat that would be just under Cornell's property.
RICH BURGESS: OK. Thank you. All right. The next one is going to be for Jeff. That's not that one. We'll get to that one in a second. The next one is for Jeff. Aside from the primary heating objectives, are there other scientific and engineering outcomes from the CUBO project? And then a second part to that one, is there any life down there?
JEFFERSON TESTER: I'm going to turn that one--
RICH BURGESS: Maybe you can phone a friend on that one, but start with the first one, please. Are there objectives?
JEFFERSON TESTER: So you've heard a little bit about the [INAUDIBLE]. Here we go. You've heard a little bit about the scientific potential from a number of the speakers this evening. And certainly, that's going to be the case as we go forward.
But as I look at this from an engineering point of view, demonstrating something here is an important step forward that could be used by other entities, whether they're communities or other towns or states to say, maybe we could do this. It will take infrastructure, which not everybody has.
But if we're going to decarbonize, we're going to have to mobilize a pretty big group. And I think having a real demonstration here that's fully transparent, letting people learn from what we're doing will be an important step forward to do this. Whether there's life down there or not's another issue, and I'm going to let Patrick answer that one.
PATRICK FULTON: OK, Thanks.
JEFFERSON TESTER: And what do we mean by life, right?
PATRICK FULTON: Is there life in this room? No. So yeah, great question. And there is a lot of science that we can do beyond just trying to find a good, renewable, low-carbon source of heat here.
So I'm an Earth scientist, and I'm very much interested in fluid flow. Hydrogeologist underground. And so Natural Science Foundation was very interested on this as well. And so I'm a PI on a separate project where we have tried to collect fluid, water, from down underground and tried to-- working with colleagues try to figure out, what is-- how saline is it? How salty is it? And is anything living under there?
Great excitement about it. One of the things that might not be that great is that when we tried to pull water out from the well-- well, first we cleaned the well out and everything. We put water from the fire hydrant essentially, filled it in, and then we tried to lower the water level. And we collected water from that, but probably not a lot of water was actually flowing from the rocks down there.
So we're doing some geochemistry on it right now and we're culturing it as well, trying to see if there's anything that's living in it. That water might not be really representative of the water that is down there.
We have some plans right now-- because this is an observatory, we have some plans and are trying to figure out some ways in the next few weeks and months before we put that fiber optic cable in to actually go lower something down there and actually get some of that water that's down sitting on the bottom, bring that up. And we'll continue to try to do some geochemistry and microbiology on it.
If we find things that are living down there, how do they survive? It's far away from land or sunlight. They might be living off of hydrogen that is kind of naturally being produced by the rocks. And we're certainly interested in it. We'll certainly let you know if we find anything.
RICH BURGESS: Yep. I've got a pair of questions that speak to risk. And I think Ole maybe for one and then our other Geoff for the other. So Ole, we've received several questions about potential risks around this project. What are the potential environmental impacts like pollution or habitat loss, and how do they compare to other forms of renewable energy? And then one that's more on induced seismicity, which I'll ask Geoff to speak to. Go ahead, Ole.
OLE GUSTAFSON: Yeah. So I covered some of our planning and monitoring related to environmental impacts during drilling. And I think drilling, especially when shale gas development and fracking and all that really took off in Pennsylvania, created a lot of community concern with widespread impacts if it was a large-scale operation happening out in pristine farmland and woods and a lot of construction impacts and maybe some poor practices in terms of managing drilling fluids and well construction techniques. It didn't keep all the zones isolated and separated and things like that.
So those are concerns that we've taken very seriously, and we insisted on using best practices. And I will give credit to the drilling industry. I think they've made a lot of strides to learning how to do it better. But we held them to a high standard, and we would continue to do so.
As far as just geothermal in general, the relative impacts of it, it actually can be a really good solution in terms of getting a lot of energy from a relatively small amount of land disturbance. Obviously, solar arrays, even wind turbines, they take up quite a bit of space. They're taking up valuable real estate on the surface that could have other uses, right?
So geothermal can be developed. You do have to have some space to drill the well. But then as you saw at the end of those slides there with the current status of the site, we just have a small footprint left at the surface. And that can be under parking lots or even under buildings and things like that. So from that point of view, it can compare really favorably to other renewable technologies.
RICH BURGESS: Good. Thank you, Ole. And Geoff, would you expect more induced seismicity from a geothermal well than from CUBO?
GEOFF ABERS: Thanks. That's an excellent question, and that's actually a lot of the motivation for investing all this time and energy into long-term seismic monitoring. So we talked earlier-- CUBO is really just drilling and the kinds of observations that my colleagues showed you that we made in the borehole itself.
But if you think of-- the production system is one thing that's really important for putting water in one hole and pulling it-- hot water out another hole. It has to migrate from one of these holes to the others, and it does that-- to do that, you need to increase the pressure a bit of the water in there, and that propagates through fractures. And that's where you do start to affect the stress regime and the strength of the rocks.
And this is seen in pretty much all geothermal wells, that very tiny earthquakes occur-- can occur when this is happening. These are tiny. We saw we can see magnitude 0s and smaller events with the network we have. They're useful to observe. None of this is something you can feel. But by watching them, we can see where the fluid is flowing between the two wells, which is one of the best ways that we have eyes on the system and to monitor it.
We can also leave this kind of monitoring system in place because then if we do start to see the magnitudes of the earthquakes start to go up closer to where someone might be able to feel something, then the idea is we institute some kind of a traffic light system. Go from green to yellow to red that triggers a reduction in the production, the pumping.
And there's a system that's been tried and tested at a number of geothermal sites around the world. There's international consortia that are developing best practices for doing that, and we're trying to adopt that kind of methodology as best as possible.
RICH BURGESS: Thank you. All right. Terry is getting kind of bored over there. We're going to have one for Terry. Actually, going to have two for Terry.
So first, what is the geological or geothermal explanation for why it's hot enough two miles below the surface to make this project potentially feasible? Does the heat derive from the molten magma deep in the Earth's mantle? Is there something particular about the rock composition that makes this feasible? Or is it the same story more widely spread two miles deep?
TERRY JORDAN: Excellent question. Everywhere on Earth, it will grow hotter as you go downward through the rocks. Maybe not in the top 500 feet, but below that it will grow hotter and hotter.
It varies how high the temperature is. Let's say you could drill only two kilometers deep. They can drill deeper, but let's say your budget allows only two kilometers. There are places where your two-kilometer hole will get you 200-degree Celsius temperatures and here in Ithaca it got you not even 100 degrees. So it varies from place to place, which change the economics if you're trying to drill for heat.
But everywhere it's hotter as you go downward. And that's because the inner layers of Earth, the core is the hottest, and heat radiates-- or heat doesn't radiate. Heat conducts through the solid out into the cold outer space. So heat's flowing out of the Earth everywhere. You just don't feel it because it's very dispersed.
There are molten magmas in parts of the mantle, for instance, but that's for the same reason. It's because heat is coming up from the core. What was the second?
Oh, because we're here in the continents, the rocks beneath us do generate a little bit of their additional heat because of radioactive decay. The continental rocks have some radioactive elements. They decay. It creates a little heat. There are some places in New England where they have hot granite. It is slightly more favorable to pick your geothermal site there than here, but everywhere if you go down a couple kilometers you're going to get into rocks of interest for direct heating.
RICH BURGESS: Before you give up the microphone, could we drill further down and get hot enough rock to be able to generate electricity by steam?
TERRY JORDAN: Certainly we could get rocks hot enough for generating electricity by going deeper. Two kilometers, three kilometers? It'd be a lot more, and it's very expensive.
The question will continue to be, can the heat be brought out via steam or hot water? And that's a plumbing problem. And so as Patrick has belabored already, we need a way to get some sort of fluid or steam to move through those rocks. And that's actually a good question of whether it could be done at an economically feasible manner, even if you first drilled that very expensive hole to a greater depth.
RICH BURGESS: All right. Thank you, ma'am. The next question is going to be for Lynden because he's just sitting here looking good. Lynden, can you speak to the decisions that were made to pursue Earth Source Heat as compared to alternatives such as shallow geothermal or biofuel?
LYNDEN ARCHER: Willing to try, right? So a lot of those decisions were made before I became dean, but I think they were good decisions, right? And so I think there are two components to them.
So we are a university campus. We are a campus known for our innovation in engineering. And the question of how you heat buildings, businesses is actually a question for humanity. How do you do this sustainably in a carbon-free fashion?
And I think we were lucky to have Jeff Tester, my chemical engineering colleague on campus, who said, you know what? You can do this by directly using heat that is stored in the Earth. And if you did it, you would be the first to do it, and you would develop prototypes that if you were successful could be deployed anywhere in the world because the quality of our heat resource is just so poor. So I think from an engineering point of view, from a societal impact point of view, the decision to pursue deep geothermal is brilliant because if it works here, it can be deployed anywhere.
Now the question, of course, is relative to the alternatives. And I think that that is an open question. I think as a campus, we've always felt like we were going to develop a system of systems that ultimately gets us to our Climate Action Plan goals. 2035, we want to be carbon-neutral.
And pretty much, we're going to use all of the options available. And so if there are opportunities to use biofuels to do certain parts of the campus, we will do that. If there are plausible opportunities to do conventional ground source heat pumps, we will do that as well.
And I think ultimately we want to be the campus that demonstrates technologies at scale that could be used anywhere. So the decisions were great from the perspective of an engineering dean who wants to do engineering that has impact on all humanity.
RICH BURGESS: All right. Thank you, Lynden. We're getting towards the end, so we have a couple more to go. I'm going to ask Patrick on this one. How is this process of extracting geothermal heat from the Earth's surface different from fracking?
PATRICK FULTON: Yeah, great question. And I think really the question comes-- with fracking is we need to do stimulation. If we need to essentially connect those fractures up or make more permeability to allow us to flow, how is this different from fracking in Pennsylvania and other places where they're also trying to make a lot of permeability stuff to get gases to flow?
There's a lot of technical differences between the two. One is just in terms of volume and pressure is a lot lower here. But I think the real expert on this is Tony Ingraffea, who I think many of you know. Unfortunately, he can't make it. He's actually kind of really expressed really clearly the differences and why this is something to be in favor of compared to-- well, I don't know if against.
But he's actually recorded something online. And rather than me try to repeat what he says, I'd encourage you to look on the Earth Source Heat website underneath the Frequently Asked Questions. Under Drilling Safety, he has a whole video and explanation about how this is different from many things, including how we do our casing design and best practices on that to the specifics in terms of pressure and volumes and things like that, involved chemicals and stuff. So thanks.
RICH BURGESS: OK. Thanks. Let's go quick one to Terry. Is the site open for visiting?
TERRY JORDAN: Yes. [LAUGHS] For those of you who came in the summer, we no longer have the lovely awning you can eat your lunch under and stay out of the wind. But the major exterior fence is gone. The machines are gone. There is a fence to keep you away from-- what was it? The big red fire hydrant is what it was called?
But yeah, you can go. It's relatively boring, but in a nostalgic way it's a great place. And you, your classes are invited. If you would like someone from the Earth Source Heat team to meet you there and talk with you about it, then drop one of us an email or the Contact Us link on the Earth Source Heat website.
RICH BURGESS: All right. I think this is going to be the last one, and this will be for Jeff. And this is in comparison to Iceland. And if you don't know it, the President of Iceland is coming to visit next week, so that's exciting. How does this compare to Iceland's geothermal systems, particularly with respect to their constraints and our constraints?
JEFFERSON TESTER: Well, first of all, if you're going to be in the business of geothermal, you want to go to Iceland for virtually everything you need because they have high temperatures close to the surface, as Professor Jordan was talking about. And they have really the ability for-- it's a relatively small country.
Let's think about it for a minute. It's 300,000-some people. It's only 10 times bigger than Cornell, and it's about 1,000 times smaller than the United States. So what they can do and what they can implement is really astonishing in how fast they've done it.
They didn't do it overnight. It took them about a half a century to do all the district heating virtually in the country. They had to put in the pipes. They had to dig up the streets. As the former president, who is also here-- President Grimsson spoke about this-- you have to go house by house and street by street. So you have to have a buy-in from the public that this is going to deliver long-term value.
But I think what's different about some of the things we've been saying, geothermal is not a short-term proposition. It's a long-term commitment. And you have to make sure that you're sustainably for the long term extracting or removing this heat. They're able to do that in Iceland. In addition, they can generate a fair fraction of their electric power.
They have one other resource that we have in this country but nowhere near as much in terms of per capita use, which is hydropower. We have a little hydropower here at Cornell. This is obviously an energy system approach, but it will not solve our entire electricity needs for what we have. We have about a 30-megawatt or so electric load.
And if I have this correct-- Vergil here, he will correct me if I'm wrong-- we're about a megawatt or so in terms of what the hydro plant produces. So we have to make up a lot of that with solar and hopefully with wind. But for heat, we can do it all virtually in terms of the baseload.
Dean Archer implied that it might make sense from an economic point of view to essentially have an augmentation for those very cold days. A lot of you live in this region. You know we have at least 20 really cold days, and the load at Cornell goes up significantly during that period. Almost doubles from where we are right now.
So we're going to have to meet that in some way. It doesn't economically make sense to drill extra wells just for those short period of time. And that might be a perfect place to take advantage of waste biomass. And we could do that sustainably as well.
Right. Right. Right. Right. So what was the other part of this? Yeah.
RICH BURGESS: Well, that was it. We're out of time.
JEFFERSON TESTER: That's enough, right? We're out of time. Thank you.
RICH BURGESS: [INAUDIBLE]. I'd like to just close by thanking everybody for attending. Thanks for our folks on Zoom land. We had a few questions that we didn't get to, so we'll take these and we'll post answers to the earthsourceheat.cornell.edu website. We do have FAQs that are already there, so if we haven't covered these questions in those FAQs, we'll update those. I think the team will probably need just a few days to make that happen.
But if you have not checked out that website, I encourage you to do so. There's a lot of great information. Got some very informative videos. We had a weekly video out on the job site. Bill Nye the Science Guy came out and shot a video.
Dean Archer was out there. Pretty much everybody was out there at one point or another for a video. They let me shoot the very last one when the project was being broken down. They're like, OK. You can do your video now, Rick. But--
I encourage you to check it out. There's a ton of great information in there. Please take a look at it. And thank you again for your attendance this evening. Goodnight.
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The university recently completed the Cornell University Borehole Observatory (CUBO), a nearly two-mile deep exploratory borehole. Data gathered through CUBO, such as subsurface rock conditions and heat output, will allow the university to determine if it can move forward with Earth Source Heat (ESH), our version of a deep geothermal system that researchers believe has the potential to sustainably heat Cornell’s Ithaca campus without the use of fossil fuels.