BERKELEY (KPIX 5) — Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have launched a new project hoping to find a cleaner way to heat and cool campus buildings.
Most on-campus excavation, such as construction projects, can be up to 60, maybe 80 feet deep.
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Engineers are now going way beyond that, hoping to create what you might call a “natural heat pump.”
“We’re drilling 400 feet into the ground, really to test the ground’s ability to absorb heat,” said Kenichi Soga, a professor of civil engineering at UC Berkeley.
With a depth of 120 meters and a width of approximately 20 cm, the borehole gives Soga and his team unprecedented access to the soil and rocks below the campus.
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Depending on what they find, they hope to use that rock for thermal storage; Taking heat from the hot summer months, and pumping it underground where it can be held by the rock until needed later.
“What we want to do is by having a lot of boreholes, can we store the heat in the summer? And can we use that in the winter?” Soga explained to KPIX 5. “That’s the kind of thing we want to explore.”
It’s not like traditional geothermal energy that draws heat from much deeper into the Earth, but it could be an alternative to what the campus uses now.
“This fits into a larger project that we are looking at for the UC Berkeley campus,” said Kira Stoll, UC Berkeley Carbon Solutions Officer. “We plan to take over our natural gas-powered heating and cooling and power system and decarbonise it.”
One possibility is a separate borehole for each building, or a system where buildings share underground storage. But it all depends on what kind of rock they find under the campus.
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“If the test goes well, we will continue to explore how geothermal energy can be used to make the campus heating and cooling system we are installing extremely efficient,” Stoll told KPIX 5.