[MUSIC PLAYING] JOEL MALINA: Good evening. Welcome, everyone. So glad you can join us this evening. This is our third town hall to provide our community with an update on Cornell's progress towards an enhanced geothermal system that would use the heat stored in the Earth's crust to provide sustainable heat for our Ithaca Campus. It's a project which we call Earth Source Heat.
At our first event, back in March of 2017, we reviewed the University's options for achieving a carbon neutral campus, and we introduced the possibilities and the promise of Earth Source Heat, which would heat the campus using a 100% clean and sustainable resource, the Earth's crust. In May 2018, we held a second town hall that outlined the phases of our plans to move forward on this project, including planned research to study the underlying seismicity in the area as well as other research efforts to mitigate risk of the project.
Then in December of 2019, we held a campus-wide sustainability summit, which was open to the public, where our former College of Engineering dean, Lance Collins, provided an update on the project. And that brings us to tonight, where we're looking forward to bringing the community together again to provide an update on what is an exciting new component to the project that will provide us with additional information to help ensure both the viability, and importantly, the safety of this project.
I'm really pleased to be able to introduce an incredible panel. I'm joined here tonight by Rick Burgess. Rick is the Vice President for Facilities and Campus Services. He's also the co-chair of the Sustainable Cornell Council. Rick will provide a quick overview of the project, as well as its phases.
We're also pleased to welcome Terry Jordan. Terry is the J. Preston Levis Professor of Engineering, and she will update us on the science underlying the project.
Next we'll hear from Steve Byers, the Environmental Engineer of Facilities and Campus Services, who will provide technical details about our current phase.
And then Tony Ingraffea, the Dwight C. Baum Professor Emeritus will describe the many safety measures that we've taken and that we'll continue to incorporate into the project.
Now, our four panelists will present for about 30 minutes, after which we will open the floor for Q&A. Please use the Q&A feature in your Zoom, not chat, and we will get to as many of those questions as possible. I'll note that our program tonight is being recorded, and we will post it to the earthsourceheat.cornell.edu website. It will include closed captioning, along with a set of slides remediated for accessibility needs.
So with that, without further ado, let me turn things over to Rick Burgess. Rick.
RICK BURGESS: Thanks, Joel. And good evening to all. It's great to be here. We were almost ready to deliver this brief last year, when we, unfortunately, had to defer it. So it's great to be with you all, at least virtually, and I look forward to being able to share this information.
I want to start-- we'll be going to the next slide map. I want to start with a brief recap of the background and the concept behind Earth Source Heat. The idea for this project came out of discussions on how we would realize Cornell's carbon neutrality pledge, and it has been part of Cornell's climate action plan since 2009.
The concept was further refined in 2016, when the Senior Leaders Climate Action Group at Cornell developed and analyzed options for how to accelerate the achievement of that goal of carbon neutrality. And they recommended Earth Source Heat as the preferred strategy. Not only would Earth Source Heat enable Cornell to heat our campus without burning fossil fuels, but it also brings an exciting opportunity for scientific discovery-- you'll hear more about that this evening-- and the potential for being a solution beyond Cornell, in the State of New York, as the state works to move beyond fossil fuels itself.
In this diagram, we have a schematic view of how Earth Source Heat would work. The red and the blue lines that extend down into the Earth represent what's called the well pair. The line on the left of the two, the blue line, is the injection well. We would pump cold water down that well, and it would move through the rock, through cracks and fissures and other openings in the rock, and would be drawn up through the leg indicated in red, which is the production well, and it would be heated by its contact through the rock as it passes through those small openings.
The little gray building that's indicated there would house a heat exchanger. So the warm water would come up the production well, go into a heat exchanger, and then transfer its heat to a secondary loop, and that's the red loop that's indicated encircling the campus. So that secondary loop would convey the heat to the facility's entrances, and then you would have piping and pumps to take the heat to the spaces and water heaters in the building. Cold water would then return to the heat exchanger and be reinjected down the injection well.
So that's the basic concept of the system. And we would envision three, possibly four of the well pairs would be needed in order to heat our Ithaca Campus. That's based on preliminary estimates, and that needs to be borne out by more research and analysis, which we're going to speak to tonight. Next slide.
So as you can imagine, this is a large and complex undertaking. And on this slide, we lay out our structured approach to the project. We've established phases of effort, and I'll speak to each one of these here in a second. But the idea is that you have a phase, and before you can move to the next phase, you have to pass through a stage gate, and you have to meet certain success criteria to move on with the next stage in the project.
And we are doing this to reduce the risk that comes with any large and complex project, a big risk of will you achieve your desired intent. Will it work the way we want it to work. And so we want to maximize the chances of that, and we want to minimize the chances of any adverse consequences or other effects that might come along with that. So that is why we have a very structured and step-wise progression through these phases.
So starting on the left, the first phase is discovery and design. And this is really about doing the research and gathering information that's necessary to understand the various parameters of the material that we would be working with. We've done most all the research you can do above ground. And really, the next step is to drill a hole and find out what conditions are found below us. So you're going to hear more about that from Terry Jordan and Steve Byers.
And we're going to use that information to design the system. And what we want to do is make sure that we would have a good chance at a functioning well pair. So we need to have enough information on the geology below us, and I have some specific questions I'll show you that we're looking for answers for, and then we use that information to design the system.
So if we can get that information, we then would proceed to the next step, which is to demonstrate. We would want to demonstrate the viability of the project by getting a functioning well pair and having that be without adverse consequences that would become problematic. And then we want to be able to connect that to our district heating system and demonstrate that the system works.
And then if the initial well pair perform successfully, we would then move to the third stage, in which we would deploy the system more broadly. We would expand the system on the rest of the Cornell Ithaca Campus, and then we would not do this aspect of it ourselves, but look to the private sector. If there were interest, it could be deployed more broadly in the state. Next slide.
And so just returning to our current stage, and more specifically, the questions that we want to answer. Here are a number of them, broadly speaking, that we need to address in order to get to that system design. What sorts of risks, what might we be entailing here, and can they be mitigated. How should we mitigate them.
A couple of prominent ones a lot of people are aware of would be induced felt earthquakes or seismicity that comes out of this operation, so induced by our activity. Water pollution, as we drill down through the various layers of rock. Can we get enough heat out of the rock in order to heat the campus. That's a big question. We want to have sufficient confidence in that. And then once we go to the trouble and expense of drilling these holes, will that last long enough to make it worthwhile.
And then finally, can we successfully put all this together and have it get through the various permitting requirements and be acceptable to our local community of which we are part. And Cornell's not going anywhere, so it's got to it's got to work for everybody. So these are some of the big questions that we need this initial exploration to be able to answer. And so with that, I'm going to turn it over to Terry Jordan, who's going to speak to the scientific side of this borehole. Terry.
TERESA JORDAN: Thank you, Rick. Next slide, please. So this is, again, the list that Rick Burgess just showed you. And for each of those questions that he said we all need answers before advancing, each of those involves knowing something about the subsurface condition, the materials, that we mostly do not know yet. So there'll be a lot of attention in this list to things about the mechanical state and about the fluids. And with the information we have now, we do not know that yet. So next slide, please.
You might ask, why do we know something about what's under the ground. Well, here is the basic geological strategy that deals with the solid rock and the temperatures. There's two ways we know something. Over-- and this is like a slice into the Earth, like you were cutting a cake.
And over on the far right, in the gray, at the top, is the Adirondack Mountains with their metamorphic rocks. If you drive across the top surface, hill and valley, to Ithaca, over the far left end, you've passed through a series of different types of sedimentary rocks. We also then can compare that to what is found in boreholes that already exist in the area because of oil and gas exploration, for which the state holds the data.
And you see if you go down the borehole, you get the same series of rocks that you would run into if you drove north to the Adirondacks. And so that allows us to interpret or predict under Cornell, where we have no boreholes, what the geology will be at which depth. It also allows us to know something about the temperatures. And we used a lot more than the wells shown here. There's dozens of wells near Cornell that help us refine that interpretation. Next, please.
And redefined rock-focused and temperature-focused interpretation is shown here. The many different colored horizontal slices in the top half are the sedimentary layers, and the gray, undifferentiated material below, about 3,000 meters or two miles, would be like the rocks of the Adirondacks, we think, but we have almost no direct information here in Central New York.
So this was a cartoon we could use in the past. It's fairly good predictions of the depth we'll find different kinds of rocks at. It has a cartoon of what maybe a well pair for Earth Source Heat would consist of. And it has temperatures. The numbers on the right side are temperatures, increasing downward.
And a couple of-- one rock that might particularly interest you is the thick band of black rocks. Those are the lower of the two natural gas-bearing rocks that they drill into so widely in Northern Pennsylvania. And if you look at the temperatures, we're interested in rocks hotter than 70 degrees Celsius, which is about 160 degrees Fahrenheit. And all the rocks of interest to us underlie that gas shale-bearing black unit. So we're drilling through that, and we're going to ignore it while we focus on what's underneath.
We wanted to be able to answer all those questions, the analysis that Rick Burgess referred to. And so a year ago, we invited 35 national and international geologists and borehole engineering and geology experts to help us plan what and how will we measure material or items in the subsurface to give you and us the information we need to do the analyses. And at the end of three days of deliberation, it emerged that the way to do it is to set out of our thoughts for a while the injection, the production wells that Rick Burgess just described, and drill another well dedicated to gathering data.
And then we can use that well later, in years to come, to monitor the subsurface conditions and find out if anything changes in a way that means that we should adjust the Earth Source operation. And if the decision is made that we will not go ahead, the University would not go ahead to use this geothermal energy, then we have a fantastic scientific observatory borehole here, and great projects will be conducted by the science and engineering community. Next, please.
So this slide and the next one focus on what we really will try to extract of information and samples from this first exploratory borehole in order to answer the numerous parts of the planning questions, the analysis questions which Rick mentioned, which we cannot yet answer. And I've summarized in the bold headings here two major types of questions. One is how much heat can be produced. Will it be sufficient for our needs, and for how long would it last. The other is the question of what are the risks of unintended consequences.
For both of those, they need information about the nature of the fluids in the rocks, where they are, what their compositions are. They need information about the mechanical conditions in the subsurface. And for the evaluation of the production, we also need to know what the temperature really is not just estimate it. So this is the focus, to get answers to those questions is the focus of what we're calling CUBO, the exploratory well. And then next, please.
And then that well will persist into the future for monitoring. And what would we need to monitor? Well, we might want to keep track of how fluids change in the subsurface. For that, we monitor temperature with fiber optic cables. We might very well want to know whether the mechanical conditions underground change from their original baseline. For that, we would have other fiber optic cables that measure the strain or the deformation of the rocks.
A borehole will allow one to go back in and repeat sample of the natural fluids, and we will leave planted in that borehole, secured in it, a seismometer that will be very sensitive to any vibrations in the rock. So this will be the monitoring role into the future. And I turn it back over to Joel now.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you so much, Terry. Next we'll hear from Steve Byers, the lead engineer on the project. Steve.
STEVE BYERS: Thank you, Joel. Thank you, Terry. So next slide. So Cornell has been exploring the concept of using the Earth's natural heat for campus heating since 2009, as Rick told you, when we created our first Climate Action Plan. But we really got going in 2017, when the US Department of Energy awarded grants to five research teams to study this concept of what they call deep direct use.
This study provided a tremendous opportunity to challenge our own assumptions and to refine and improve our ideas. It led to the discovery of better approaches to the work, such as the integration of district-level heat pumps into the system, that improved the environmental benefits and reduced costs. So building on that study, we were awarded a grant from the International Continental Drilling Science Program, ICDP.
One year ago, ICDP sponsored a workshop attended by a host of international geologists-- I think that Terry talked about this a little bit-- to help us explore the Earth Source Heat idea. ICDP scientists convinced us that we should first drill an exploratory borehole, and this is where the CUBO idea was born, Cornell University Borehole Observatory.
CUBO will not only reveal the precise conditions under our feet, but allow us an opportunity to place monitors deep in the Earth to measure and track even small changes occurring below the surface. So apparently, the Department of Energy liked this idea. They not only awarded a contract for CUBO, but they allocated, effectively, all of the program money to us, setting up Cornell as the de facto national test case for this technology. Next slide, please.
So you've seen this slide before, but let me present it through the lens of a project engineer. An engineer is looking to answer two general questions, namely are the subsurface conditions here in Ithaca suitable for this project, and if so, what is the best approach to developing it. Next slide, please.
So there are two primary engineering goals for CUBO. The first is ground truthing. Our prior work identified a broad range of opportunities for using the subsurface. We will be targeting three distinctly different geological zones, each with their own character, knowing the precise depths and corresponding temperature sustainable fluid flow rate, fluid character, and rock type of each target helps us to quantify the benefits, costs, and risks of any future project.
The second goal is to determine the best engineering approach. We anticipate our systems approach will be very different for each target zone. Each presents different challenges, technically, environmentally, and fiscally. Reaching these goals will help us decide if a project here in Ithaca is feasible and safe. Next slide.
So here's the schedule that we committed to with the DOE, Department of Energy. Having just received the go-ahead, we're just about to start year one. Our delay grant includes seven tasks. I'll focus on tasks one and two tonight.
Task one involves planning and design. Task two is the physical drilling and logging. By logging, we mean using special downhole tools to collect data and test the subsurface. The planning and design, which also include bidding the work out, finalizing contracts, and permitting, happens in the first six months. We'll be starting that shortly.
Task two will start late summer and lasts about eight months. This task involves setting up for the drilling and logging, the drilling logging itself, and restoration of the site afterwards. So in the first 14 months, we'll collect a lot of data. This will provide a basis for determining whether or not there is a safe, feasible path for future geothermal development on campus.
The grant itself will run for three years. During the remainder of that time, we will continue to gather data, analyze data, refine estimates, and help the DOE determine the feasibility of this type of technology in this general geological region. Not just for Cornell, but for others who may have similar hopes for a future of renewable, sustainable heat.
So we've talked about the why, the how, and the when. The final slide I present shows where we propose this project could take place. Next slide, please.
So let me orient you on this map, then Tony can talk about why we chose this site and how we are going to monitor the site during the observatory borehole project. Starting with the large overhead map, the red square is our proposed site. It's located on Cornell property, near our Environmental Health and Safety Command Center, our Grounds Department, and our Trades Warehouses and bus and shops, our bus garage, and our Central Library Warehouse, which we call the Library Annex.
For those familiar with campus, it is on the left as you enter campus from Dryden, on Route 366, opposite the commuter parking lot, near the Vet College, just before the apple orchards. Now, there's another photo. Do you have the overlaying photo here? Is there a-- yes, thank you.
The photo in the upper right shows the drill site within an existing gravel-filled parking lot that is currently used as a contractor staging area. The site is surrounded by a Cornell service road that is accessible from 366. A portion of the East Hill Rec Trail, from Game Farm Road to Pine Tree Road, is south of the site, behind the Library Annex Building, although you can't see the site from the trail, due to the topography.
So at this point, I will turn things over to Tony Ingraffea. Tony will show you this map again and talk a little about why we chose this site and how we will monitor our impacts. So Tony?
TONY INGRAFFEA: Thank you, Steve. So my task tonight is the same as it was in our previous two community engagements, and that is to assure you that this team continues to use the best available technology and engineering in pursuing the Earth Source Heat project.
Tonight I'm going to focus once again on three issues that have been identified long ago by both the team and by the community as being issues of concern, induced seismicity, potential for that, potential for water contamination, and a potential for loss of wellbore integrity in whatever holes we drill in the ground. So if we go to the next slide.
Of course tonight, we're focusing on CUBO, the Cornell University Borehole Observatory, this exploratory well that hopefully will get into the ground this year. Steve just pointed out to you the target location for CUBO. And I want to point out here that we have a blue circle and a pink circle. The blue circle is a quarter mile in radius, the red a half mile in radius, to note that this site is totally within Cornell property and well away from well-known aquifers.
I'm now going to address those three issues in order, first seismicity, potential for induced seismicity. This slide also shows near wellbore seismometers of two types. The blue is a borehole seismometer, that is it's buried in a relatively shallow borehole, and the yellows are surface seismometers. If we go to the next slide. And again, we're going to zoom out and click twice. Oh, back. There you go.
Now, you'll notice that we have not only near-field seismometers, but far-field. Again, the blue are borehole seismometers. Those buried in the yellow are surface. Why far-field? What's the purpose of all these seismometers, which have been in effect and taking readings now for years?
The first objective is to establish the baseline of natural seismicity. What does nature do underground around Ithaca and around Cornell with respect to earth movements. The other reason is to detect other forms of human-induced seismicity, such as pile drivers working to build new structures in downtown Ithaca, explosions in nearby quarries, and explosions in the salt mine.
Those are also forms of human-induced seismic events. And we want to be able to differentiate, as time goes on, should we be lucky enough to go forward with well pairs, to know when we are within baseline or outside of baseline and when other forms of human-induced seismicity overwhelm anything that we might do. Let's go to the next slide.
We refer now to the potential for water contamination. Over the last year, we've drilled four water-monitoring wells surrounding the site where CUBO is going to be drilled. The purpose of these water-monitoring wells is exactly what they say.
We drilled those wells to the depths typical of private water wells. And they will enable us to sample water taken from those depths during the process of development of CUBO, but also going forward with the potential development of the well pairs. These water-monitoring wells will be available forever, and they form a fantastic source, like CUBO, for data mining. I should also point out one other seismometer which was mentioned earlier, and that's one that will be deployed in the bottom of CUBO itself. So let's go to the next slide.
I'll give you a minute to absorb what's on here. This is a sketch of CUBO. And you'll notice that on the left of the sketch, in red, is information about the various diameters and depths of the holes that will be drilled for CUBO. You'll notice that we start off with a hole that's 36 inches in diameter, but by the time we get down to 10,000 feet, 8 and 1/2 inches. So this drawing is obviously not to scale. 10,000 feet, 8 and 1/2 inches in diameter.
On the right, you'll see information about the various conductor pipes. Those are steel pipes that are inserted as the well's being drilled. Important to note here, in yellow is cement. That's the material that's injected into the well to occupy space between the outside of the various casings and the next nearest casing or the wellbore itself.
And here we're again using best available engineering technology to note that there are five layers of casing and cement everywhere we should put it, that completely isolates the borehole. There is no open hole section to this well. We isolate the borehole, and we also overlap the cementing between adjacent casing strings.
You can also see here something that was mentioned earlier in the presentation. The two green lines are the fiber optic cables, which will be used to, again, mine this hole for data. I emphasize, it's not a gas well. It's not an oil well. It's not going to be a fracked well. It's a data well.
And I conclude by saying that I hope I've assured you that this team is using best available engineering and technology to de-risk this exploration phase of the project. And with that, I'm going to hand it back to Joel, so that we can continue into public Q&A. Thank you.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you so much, Tony. And to all of our panelists, I want to congratulate them. We actually finished the presentation in a half hour, which is terrific.
That gives us just under 30 minutes for what, by my review, are a number of very interesting questions. My plan is to get through as many of these as possible. Please continue if you have additional questions, to please continue submitting them.
But as the questions continue to filter in, let me start Steve with a question that I think is on everyone's mind. What's next? Assuming that the borehole confirms that the project is feasible and safe, what can the community expect next? What is the progress that we feel-- the track that we might feel we'll be on? What happens next?
STEVE BYERS: Well, thanks, Joel. Let me-- I'm waiting for my picture. I'm not sure. [LAUGHS] So anyway, the next step, that's a very good question. We'd expect that we would be looking to do a explore-- a demonstration project, which basically means two wells, just like Rick explained earlier, one a production well, where we bring the water up, and the other one the reinjection or return well, where we send the water back down, and actually using that heat that we generate from the subsurface on campus.
Of course, to get there, we have to finish the design. We have to explain exactly what we're going to do in the ground. We have to get all that permitted. We have to get local approvals. We have to get funding. So there's a lot of little steps to get to that point.
But if we get to that point, that's where we're going. We'll be trying to set up a demonstration project to demonstrate the technology that can be used here on campus and certainly beyond campus.
JOEL MALINA: Great. Well, let's jump right in. And thanks to everyone who has submitted questions. We'll start at the top. Would the campus loop be new piping or use existing steam piping? I'm thinking Steve or Rick to answer that.
STEVE BYERS: I guess I'll take that one again. So our campus system right now is mostly steam, but part of it's already been converted to hot water, and we're continuing a process of converting from steam to hot water. We would need to deliver this hot water through hot water piping. Sometimes we can use the steam pipe, but we may need a return pipe, another pipe, because the condensate return wouldn't be big enough.
So it basically does involve us to do a lot of work on campus. We're already planning how that will get done. And we have a good plan for at least the first demonstration well set. But to convert the whole campus will take a number of years.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you, Steve. I think I'm going to stick with you. What volume of the Earth is needed for what is essentially a 10-year operation?
STEVE BYERS: Wow. I need Jeff Tester for that one. I've done the problem before, but I don't have the number in my head, and since we're taping this, I'm going to pass on--
JOEL MALINA: Is Jeff with us? Is Jeff with us tonight? Jeff? Well, we will get that answer and post it to our website. So thank you very much for asking it.
Next, and again, this gets to a level of detail. Please advise on the flow rate per well and the temperature of the hot water exiting the well. Is that similarly a Jeff Tester question?
STEVE BYERS: No. I think we can answer that one. Terry started answering that before, where she said that we're looking for hot water at 70 degrees centigrade or higher. And 70 degrees centigrade, I think she told us, was 160 Fahrenheit, thereabouts. So somewhere between that and the boiling point of water. Between that and 95, we'd expect.
The flow rate is a very good question. Other types of wells that are successful are somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 to 50 kilograms per second, which is not probably a unit most people are used to, but that's the unit we'll be using in our estimates. So that's for one well pair.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you. Next question. And this gets to the estimated time frame. And Brian Crandall suggests, let's put funding aside for a second, pending funding. Is this, in fact, something that won't be able to begin deployment, the actual Earth Source Heat mechanism, until 2024 or 2025? If the demonstrations are successful, is that an accurate estimate? Rick, is that something you want to speak to?
RICK BURGESS: You're on a roll with Steve, so I think we-- in our timeline, I'll just say that yes, we need probably three years to do the DOE observatory, the borehole observatory that we're talking about that would really get that information, process it, and help us to get to the design before we'd be ready for that. So that puts us about 2024.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you. The next series of questions, I'm going to turn to Tony. Hilary Lambert asks a number. I'm going to kind of lump them together first. And there are water-specific ones. Where will the water come from for these operations? How will that water be transported? In trucks? What's the route? How will the water be discarded? Are these questions, Tony, that we have answers to?
TONY INGRAFFEA: Yes. First of all, let's make sure we understand we're not talking large quantities of water. This is not a shale gas well with 20 million gallons of water having to be trucked to the site. And this is basically a closed-loop system.
The volume of water we start with, very little gets lost, hopefully, in the rock mass. Most of what we put down comes back and gets reused. So there's very little volume compared to a shale gas or shale oil well. where the water comes from is probably where Cornell gets its water source, most likely, Fall Creek. Exact volumes, Steve, you got a good estimate for the total volume of water that will be in play at any one time?
STEVE BYERS: So I guess if we're talking about exploratory borehole, then we're not circulating water. We're not going to be using very much water in that process, other than during the drilling process. And that's, again, it's cleaned and recirculated, and it's all Cornell water. So there's not a whole lot used there.
If we're talking about in the future, when we have a well pair, you're right. Actually, most systems in Europe that are similar to this actually have a submersible pump, and they just dump-- after they take the heat out, the water goes right back into the formation, and there isn't any net use. In fact, there really isn't any change in the use, it's just pumped and returned over time there. And then the system on campus is also closed-loop.
JOEL MALINA: Two questions from Hilary's list that I'd like to ask before we move on. And Steve, I'll stick with you. What do we anticipate in terms of permits and approvals that will be needed for this stage?
STEVE BYERS: Yes. So for this initial stage, this is what the DEC, the Department of Environmental Conservation, in New York, calls a stratographic well. And it's basically a well for measurement. And they have a pretty well-defined, pretty rigorous approval process with their own environmental approvals that they'll lead up for that process. We won't be building anything on the surface. We don't have any building. We won't have any permanent pumping system or anything else.
So that'll be our main approval, and that'll be for the observatory borehole. Now, if we later have a real project, then we're going to have equipment on campus. We're going to have buildings. That'll all go through the same site plan approval that any kind of facility on campus would. And that would be a longer process and have a lot more public outreach associated with it.
JOEL MALINA: Thanks. And then also, Steve, just sticking with you. I'm assuming the answer is a quick one. No impact, any impact, on the synchrotron from these activities?
STEVE BYERS: That's a good question. We intentionally had a seismometer at the synchrotron during our work just to see what impact-- just to see how sound or vibration propagates there. We certainly will be protective of the synchrotron, and we don't anticipate any impacts there.
JOEL MALINA: Here's a question. Maybe, Terry, it's for you. Do we have to be concerned about the cooling of the core of the Earth through this process?
TERESA JORDAN: No, we really don't. There's huge distances, 1,000 kilometers of rock, between us and the core of the Earth. We're taking a tiny fraction of heat out of the volume that's underneath the campus. It's a needle in a haystack.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you, Terry. Next question, I'll go back to you, Tony. I know you touched the comparison to fracturing, but just the question, another chance for us to confirm, is the intent to use explosive fracturing to increase or direct flow?
TONY INGRAFFEA: Well, certainly for CUBO, no. There will be, according to the schedule of experiments we think we're going to be performing, what's called a mini-frack. That is a very small length of the wellbore, down deep. It will be isolated with what are called packers. Water will be injected in pressure high enough to locally fracture the rock.
When it comes to-- if we ever get to, and hopefully we will-- wellbore pairs, actual production wells, once again, we're not talking anything like what we'd anticipate on a shale gas well. If we're lucky, as Steve pointed out, there are three possible horizons of rock that we're going to be looking at through CUBO. If we find a horizon of rock that looks like the background in my picture, here, with all those natural joints and fractures and bedding planes, why would we want to fracture something that's already fractured? [LAUGHS]
So we might be lucky enough to find a horizon like that that is permeable enough, effectively permeable enough, and hot enough to meet our criteria. But under no circumstances would we ever be doing anything close to what's being done to our neighbors in the South of Pennsylvania right now.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you, Tony. Next question. Assuming that we're talking water being injected, is there a risk that water would turn to steam and somehow minimize the impact of this effort? Steve, is that for you?
STEVE BYERS: Sure. So I would say [LAUGHS] that's kind of a tricky one, because again, we're looking at a lot of different target areas. We think that all of our targets will be something less than the temperature at which water becomes steam, at 212 Fahrenheit. But we will be in the basement a bit, and we could have temperatures slightly above there.
Water stays in a water form, rather than steam, under a little bit of pressure even above 212. So we don't anticipate ever having a problem with steam in the areas that we're looking at. But we'll see when we get there exactly what we have. [LAUGHS]
JOEL MALINA: Great. Rick, do you want to answer this next question? Could these heat exchanges also be used to produce electricity?
RICK BURGESS: I think that the temperatures that we envision would really not be hot enough to make that worthwhile. I'll contrast that. I had the opportunity to go to Iceland and see how they are doing some of their geothermal systems.
They have very high temperatures. They're on a volcanic island, so they generate very, very high temperatures. As Steve said, when you bring that hot water to the surface and bring it to atmospheric pressure, it'll flash the steam, and then you can generate electricity by running that steam through turbines.
I don't think we're going to have that high a quality heat source. That's part of the allure of this concept. Because if we can make it work here, the applicability to other areas of medium to lower quality heat would be more broadly applicable than OK, all you need is a nice, convenient, volcanic island, and you're good to go. You don't have that everywhere. So we want something, if we can get to this, that would prove out more broadly.
So we don't think so in the way of generating electricity. As Steve mentioned, it doesn't have to be hot, hot water. It could be just pretty warm water. And then it could be boosted with the heat pumps to make that a sufficient temperature to heat the building satisfactorily. And this is some of the engineering analysis that has to happen to make sure we get sufficient quantity, sufficiently hot water, to make it worthwhile.
JOEL MALINA: Thanks, Rick. I want to stick with you, because a question a little bit down, what will the power usage be for the heat pumps? Is that something you can address?
RICK BURGESS: Here's where I want to pass it back to Steve. But I'm not sure we know just yet, to be able to answer it is the short answer.
JOEL MALINA: OK. Go ahead, Steve.
STEVE BYERS: I will comment that in contrast to your typical geothermal heat pump system, which is trying to make hot water from maybe 55 degrees Fahrenheit subsurface, we have very hot conditions to start with. So we're just boosting a little bit. And what we call the coefficient of performance for those heat pumps will be much higher, at least double, maybe triple what you would get in a traditional geothermal heat field, so for a shallow well.
So that's one of the great advantages here is that we can create a lot more heat using a lot less electricity. There's still some for the heat pumps, but because the coefficient performance. And what that means, coefficient performance, is just it's the amount of energy you get out divided by the electricity you put in, basically.
So we're basically saying we have a really high number. That means you don't have to put very much electricity in. And we have a couple of papers we've written to characterize that, but we'll know exactly what our estimates are once we actually see what's under the surface.
JOEL MALINA: OK. A couple of questions I'll refer to as the lightning round, because Steve, I think they'll be able to give very brief, quick answers. How wide is the well? How deep will the monitoring well be?
STEVE BYERS: So as far as how wide, I think Tony touched on that before. We still have to go through a formal design process with DOE, so I can't say for sure. But right now, we expect that the well will be about 8 inches in diameter. And how deep? You asked that?
JOEL MALINA: Yes. How deep? Yes.
STEVE BYERS: Our exploratory borehole will be 10,000 feet, give or take. The actual well may be less if we find resources higher up.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you. Rick, I'm going to go to you for this. Is Cornell the first university to implement this ground source heat exchange at a campus scale, or are there other universities who have been able to apply this successfully?
RICK BURGESS: We are in touch with a number of different folks, some of them universities, and some of them other type installations. When we had our international conference in early 2020, we had representatives from around the world, a number of them who were involved in successful projects.
Their geology was different. So although we can talk to them, and we have and will continue to learn and glean any lessons from them, that still has to be done here. So the answer is yes, but we still have an adaptation challenge for us to do that.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you. Here's one about the cost, Rick. What do we expect the likely estimate of the economics of this project, best case estimate, to be? I know it's a very large figure. We're going to end up with what will need to be a public/private partnership from a number of sources. Any rough estimates?
RICK BURGESS: It's very early. We did put some rough estimates together, and I'm going to ask Steve to refresh my memory. We figure that just getting the well pairs and the associated heat exchanger, so not necessarily the distribution, was on the order of 25 to 30? Is that right, Steve?
STEVE BYERS: Well, I'm going to answer that differently, Rick, if you don't mind. So in the DOE study, we were doing a levelized cost to heat. That's kind of the metric they use. So they were comparing, for each unit of heat we got out of the ground to use for the campus, how would that compare to traditional sources, like natural gas.
And we found that for a range of potential conditions, different flows, different depths, different temperatures, different heat pump combinations, we could be in the neighborhood of around $6 per MMBtu, per million Btu's, which is competitive with what commercial rates are for natural gas.
So that's very encouraging. It's not as cheap as some wholesale rates. I mean, natural gas is really, really cheap. But it is competitive in the market with what most people pay, so I think that encourages us.
The capital cost is a little harder to say, because again, we have three different targets, three different depths of the wells, and the wells are a big part of the cost. So I'm going to pass on giving a capital cost for the well set, but it certainly is in the tens of millions of dollars.
JOEL MALINA: Thanks, both. Here's a question. We're talking about a single borehole. We assume there'd be the horizontal hot, permeable distance. How does that work when you've only got a few inches of diameter to observe? Steve, you're-- oh, good. Great. Terry, thank you.
TERESA JORDAN: So there's a difference between this design of the exploratory well, CUBO, which Tony described thoroughly, a vertical well, 8 and 1/2 inches diameter. And in it, we're going to use logging, which is a whole battery of different physical approaches to figure out the extent to which there are fractures or fluid pathways into the rocks, but we do that continuously down through the borehole.
And we will also collect rock cores, physical tubes of rock, that are shaped like the borehole itself, in which we can look for the fractures and the paths that would let fluid flow through it. We don't imagine being able to circulate fluids and extract heat out of the CUBO borehole. So if the question is how do you interconnect with a single, little, skinny spaghetti straw into the heat, essentially, we don't do that in this first stage.
We just get the data that allow us to estimate what would be possible, and therefore how to design-- should a second well that's part of a demonstration pair, should it be aiming and following along, some horizontally or horizontally, through a permeable zone? Maybe that would be a great idea, but we don't know that till we've got data we don't have.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you, Terry. What happens to the water after it runs through the well pair? Is it a closed loop? Does it go back in? Steve?
STEVE BYERS: Yes.
JOEL MALINA: Great.
STEVE BYERS: [LAUGHS]
JOEL MALINA: That's the best type of answer. Let's go on. This is for Tony. What is the difference between the best well-drilling cementing technology you mentioned compared with the best used in the oil-gas industry?
TONY INGRAFFEA: Oh, thank you for that question. The best isn't used in the oil and gas industry. That's the simple answer. So in the oil and gas industry, the idea is to put the least amount of money down the hole in order to get the most oil and gas out.
So typically, instead of having five layers of casing, in Texas they use two. And instead of having cement everywhere they should, they only put cement where they can afford to. So they have very long segments of a well completely open, open hole. Therefore, any gas or fluids or oil or other deleterious material has an opportunity to invade the hole and get to the surface or to an underground source of drinking water.
What we've designed here, with the five layers of casing with overlapping cement layers, is the best available way of doing it. No well can be guaranteed to be foolproof forever. But this CUBO well, a data mine, is designed so that the only thing that ever comes out of the well is information. Not even close to what I would call standard practice in the oil and gas industry.
Those of you who have been monitoring what's going on in the shale gas world know that there are an uncountable number of cases in which there has been a loss of wellbore integrity. That's due to insufficient casing, insufficient cementing, bad installation practices, and poor management of risk. None of those will be present here.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you, Tony. I'm going to stick with you. I want to go back. It's a water-related question. Any potential impacts to groundwater or surface water flow to nearby Cascadilla Creek?
TONY INGRAFFEA: Yes. If you recall the slide I showed where we've now installed four water-monitoring wells, I mentioned that they've been drilled to depths typical of private water wells in that area. A few tens to a few hundred feet deep. But I don't think I mentioned that the nearest private water well, to the location of CUBO, is nearly a mile away. So the potential for an impact on whatever surface water or subsurface water that private water well is accessing at perhaps 100, 150 feet deep, from CUBO, that risk is very, very small.
What we also will be able to monitor from these four water-monitoring wells, if there's enough flow in them, we can detect gradient, and that will allow us to predict which direction water flow from around the wells would go. I did point out in those slides that the large aquifers in the area are miles away from this location.
JOEL MALINA: There are a couple of questions, Tony, about whether chemicals, lubricants, et cetera, will be necessary during the drilling phases. How similar or not is the actual drilling to the fracking process?
TONY INGRAFFEA: Again, I'll answer that in two steps, one for CUBO, the data mining well. The only chemicals that would be required are those that are typically added to drilling mud. Those are not like the chemicals that are used in developing a shale gas well.
So if we go through the drilling of a production pair, again, there will be some chemicals added during the process of drilling. Since there will be no large-scale fracking or maybe no fracking at all if we're lucky, we won't have to go to that menu of chemicals that the oil and gas industry uses. So again in summary, it's only what's necessary in the drilling mud, and those are known to be non-hazardous, not carcinogenic materials. Typically, water and bentonite.
JOEL MALINA: Terry, a question for you, I believe. I heard there were issues in past drilling sites in Texas of radioactive salt compounds deep in the rock formations coming up with the water. Is this something that's being considered?
TERESA JORDAN: We know precious little about the water compositions in the rocks. There's general reports published over many years that tell us that it will be incredibly saline water, much more salty than the ocean. But as far as details of minor chemical constituents in them, we're pretty blind at the moment. We will be very interested in learning what the chemistry is, because that would affect whether we would get mineral scale built up in future pipes that the water would need to flow through, and that has to be part of the design plan, if that can be avoided.
And if there were high concentrations or concentrations that would accumulate of any radioactive materials or whatever, we need to know that, so we can decide-- the intent is the water would go right back down into the rocks, never really interact with anything at Earth's surface. But we need to know that in order to answer your very reasonable question.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you. A question, I think, for Rick. Is there a use for the system in the summertime, for cooling or heating, something?
RICK BURGESS: Good question. I think we would want to explore that and see if we could do that. We still have a need to provide some amount of heat during the summer, so we maybe would have variable pumping rates, depending on what season that we're talking about. And I'm sure smart people like Steve are already thinking about how to switch those district heat pumps over and use them for supplemental cooling and reinject some of that heat into the ground. So I think we have to figure that out, but it's a very, very good question.
JOEL MALINA: And sticking with you, Rick, looking into the future, when we have a few well pairs, how much of the campus do you think will ultimately be served by the system?
RICK BURGESS: Well, our goal would be to serve the entire campus with the system. We would envision having some sort of a renewable peaking capability, perhaps a biomass fuel boiler, in order to have it sized for most winter days and maybe not the most extreme winter days. So the intent would be to serve the Ithaca Campus through this system.
JOEL MALINA: Here's a question, I think, Terry, for you. How and why would the water move from the supply well to the takeout well and not off somewhere else in the geology?
TERESA JORDAN: Well, most likely the fluids that are down there now move extremely slowly, because they have no gradient that causes them to move around. We'll learn that in the CUBO phase, whether there's any movement of the water. But if one is drawing water out of the production well, that's going to produce sort of a suction on the system underground, and that will be what drives-- well, what we hope draws the flow from the injection well toward the production well would be the fact that we're drawing water out and creating a space for the water to flow to. So we'll create a gradient where probably no gradient exists naturally.
JOEL MALINA: We've got time probably for one, but I'm going to push it, and I think we can do two questions. Rick, I'm going to go to you. Would you envision private investors scaling up this technology for broader use, as they do in wind and solar?
RICK BURGESS: We certainly have that on the list of things to consider. When we get to the point where it looks like it's viable, it would be much more attractive to a commercial partner, and we would certainly want to explore that possibility.
JOEL MALINA: And finally-- and this is a great note for us to end on-- assuming success with the overall project, and I hope you have the figure handy in your head, Rick, how much natural gas won't need to be burned per year? How much CO2 not produced?
RICK BURGESS: We're going to put the link for that in the show notes, because I do not have it on the top of my head. But we do actually keep track of these figures. We published them to our Energy and Sustainability website And so all that data is accessible to the public.
JOEL MALINA: And I will note that the whole-- one of the many benefits of this project is it will help us achieve our Ithaca Campus carbon neutrality goal of carbon neutrality by 2035. So we're counting on significant-- capital letters-- significant emissions savings.
So with that, I recognize that there are still many questions that we did not get to, although I do want to thank my panelists. We got through about 36, with still about 39 that have not been answered. We're going to try to group those questions and try to put answers onto our Earth Source Heat website for as many of those as possible over the coming days.
With that, thank you all for joining. We are overwhelmed with the ongoing interest. Our commitment to you is to continue to update you as this goes forward. We very much benefit from your questions, and hopefully, you'll benefit from our ability to provide feedback to those questions.
So again, thank you for joining us. Have a great evening. And we'll be having an ongoing conversation with you over the coming months. Be well.
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Cornell University hosted a virtual community forum January 19, 2021, to provide an update on an enhanced geothermal heating project. Earth Source Heat, which has been part of Cornell’s campus sustainability plan since 2009, could be central to heating the Ithaca campus without the use of fossil fuels. After several years of extensive research and planning, the university is moving closer toward digging an approximately 2-mile-deep exploratory borehole near the proposed location of the project, which would allow researchers to measure the subsurface conditions to further understand rock mechanics, hydrogeology, seismology, microbiology, and other information that will be pertinent to determine if the project is feasible.
Panelists: Rick Burgess, vice president for facilities and campus services and co-chair of the Sustainable Cornell Council; Terry Jordan, the J. Preston Levis Professor of Engineering; Steve Beyers, lead ESH engineer, facilities and campus services; Tony Ingraffea, professor emeritus of civil and environmental engineering.