Ball State University completed the final stages of its $83 million, campuswide geothermal energy system in Spring 2017 after embarking on the first-of-its-size project in July 2009. With it has come a reduced carbon footprint and more than $2 million in annual energy savings for the university.
The system, funded through state appropriations and federal grants, features 3600 boreholes consisting of 1000 miles of geothermal piping. Experts at the U.S. Department of Energy and elsewhere say it may be the largest of its kind in use at a public institution. The system has drawn interest from other universities and groups in the United States, as well as visitors from Germany, Iceland, Japan, and South Korea.
Ball State worked with MEP Associates, an engineering firm that specializes in energy solutions, to design the system. Mike Luster, mechanical engineer and project manager for the Ball State project, admits there were times that answers to the system’s plan weren’t immediately clear.
“If I had a dollar for every time I said, ‘I’ve never seen that before’ on the Ball State project, I could retire,” Luster told Ball State Magazine. “Jim [Lowe] and Ball State were ready to be out there setting a trend, and while there were a lot of things that came up that we had to work through, ultimately you have to believe in the calculations.”
Luster says the proof this system is a success, in addition to reducing its carbon footprint, saving energy costs, and winning energy pioneer awards, is that private businesses are following Ball State’s lead.
“We’re currently doing (a geothermal project) at the Ford Motor Company world headquarters. That to me is the signal that this is taking off,” he says.
“You can tell when a legacy is taking hold, when it starts to become mainstream, and Ball State was a huge part of that.”