In the shadow of two outdated smokestacks and four antiquated coal-fired boilers, Ball State University has started the second and final phase of converting the university to a geothermal ground-source heat pump system. Sources say this is the largest project of its kind in the U.S.

When completed, this will be the largest geothermal project in the U.S., at 5.5 million sq.ft.

The conversion was begun in 2009 to replace coal boilers. The completed portions now provide heating and cooling to nearly half the campus. This phase of the project will be dedicated in March.

Comfort for the entire campus will be supported by four, 2,500-ton Johnson Controls/York CYK chillers.

When the system is complete, the university will save $2 million a year in operating costs.

The mechanical contractor for this massive project is MEP Associates, LLC, Eau Claire, WI. Once completed, the project will consist of about 4,100 boreholes drilled to a depth of 400 feet.

Ball State is installing a vertical, closed-loop district system that uses only fresh water. The system uses the Earth's ability to store heat in the ground and water thermal masses. A geothermal heat pump uses the Earth as either a heat source, when operating in heating mode, or a heat sink, when operating in cooling mode.

Under the direction of Jim Lowe, director of engineering, construction and operations, work has begun on Phase 2, which includes installation of 780 of the remaining 1,800 boreholes in a field on the south area of campus. Construction will continue throughout 2013-2014 and will include a new District Energy Station South containing two Johnson Controls/York CYK 2,500-ton heat pump chillers and a hot water loop around the south portion of campus. The system will then connect to all buildings on campus - eventually providing heating and cooling to 5.5 million sq.ft.

"When costs began to escalate for the installation of a new fossil fuel burning boiler, the university began to evaluate other renewable energy options," Lowe says. "This led to the decision to convert the campus to a more efficient geothermal-based heating and cooling system." The project has caught the attention of universities and communities across the nation. Lowe is sharing information about the university's new operation with others who want learn how they too can benefit from a geothermal system.

The approximately $75 million project has been supported from a public relations point of view by informative websites. (See this link and this link)