Geothermal well to power room in Lane Hall


The Department of Geology and the Facilities Services Department have partnered to install a geothermal well which will be used to heat and cool a classroom in Lane Hall. 

The heat exchange unit — which is located outside of Lane Hall, where there is already a deep observation well for geology courses — will serve as an educational opportunity for students interested in geology, according to Professor of Geology Grant Garven, who spearheaded the project. 

Garven, who has several observation wells throughout campus that he uses in his courses, wanted to transform this observation well into a geothermal well so that his students could learn more about geothermal heating and cooling. 

“I’m doing this because I wanted to show students how geologists and hydrologists use these wells to characterize the earth,” Garven said.

The project is almost complete and has not faced any major obstacles, according to Director of Facilities Services Bob Burns.

“We hope to have the unit fully operational by January 31,” he told the Daily in an email.

Geothermal wells use the energy and heat below the Earth’s crust to naturally heat water.

“The whole idea is to use the Earth as a repository for excess heat or to extract heat from the earth,” Garven said. “It’s all about energy transfer.”

The heat exchange unit works by using the cold air outside to cool water in the heat exchange unit, Garven said.

The cooled water is then pumped about 500 feet underground in a pipe. The surrounding ground warms the water as it descends, and the warmed water is then pumped back up to the surface, where the heat pump uses a series of compressions to warm air. The warmed air is then pumped into a classroom through normal furnace blowers. In the summer, this system is reversed to cool warm air.

The ground temperature in this part of New England is between 52 degrees and 55 degrees, Garven said, and it remains fairly constant year round.

Funding for the geothermal heat exchange unit came from the Facilities Services Department’s energy reserve account, according to Burns. 

“The installation of the heat exchanger, trenching lines from the well to Lane Hall, sheet metal work plus the installation cost about $35,000,” Burns said. 

Drilling the well cost under $10,000, according to Garven.

The well is intended primarily for educational purposes.

“We see this as a continuing education opportunity where the [Facilities Services Department] team ‘learns’ more about the potential of geothermal and its potential on campus,” Burns said. “Additionally, we have a working system that students and faculty can observe and evaluate.”

Students in Geology 133, Field Methods in Hydrogeology, which Garven teaches, gain hands-on experience working with the well. According to the course description, the students will learn “basic field methods to understand how monitoring and production wells are planned and drilled, and what types of geologic, geophysical, and geochemical data can be gathered for subsurface flow systems.”

While a larger-scale geothermal heat exchange system could theoretically be used to save the university money on its heating and cooling bills, this unit will only service a single classroom in Lane Hall, providing minimal savings, according to Burns. 

“For a building like [Lane Hall] or a dormitory like West Hall, you would have to have twenty of these,” Garven said.

Burns added that the project has forged a working relationship between the Department of Geology and the Facilities Services Department.

“The project has fostered a great working relationship between [the Department of Geology] and [the Facilities Department],” Burns said. “John Martignetti, [maintenance supervisor and project manager], was responsible for delivering a working system. He delivered the project on time and under budget.”

The project has generated interest among geology students as well as engineers interested in the mechanics of the heat exchange unit.

“I think it would be very exciting to learn about geothermal heating/cooling and to work with the well in a course,” said Anna Lello-Smith, a sophomore who has taken several geology courses.

“As someone who is concerned about energy-related environmental issues, ” Lello-Smith said, “I’m interested in learning about the benefits and drawbacks of this kind of heat exchange system. I would like to know more about the mechanics of the well and

how geothermal energy could be implemented on a larger scale, both on campus and in general.”

Geothermal technology is environmentally friendly, reducing energy use from heating and cooling. It is becoming more popular as environmental sustainability becomes a growing concern. 

“There is a lot of interest in trying to take advantage of technologies like this. Many schools and institutions are exploring this,” Garven said. “The big difference here is that you’re not burning gas or oil.”

Geothermal heating and cooling, however, has its downsides, according to Garven. The heat pump runs on electricity, and many units would be required to heat or cool a sizeable building, representing a large initial investment.

“It’s a trade-off,” he said. “There’s a lot of energy you have to put in to building these things.”