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Vol. LXV, No. 12
June 7, 2013
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Alternative Form of Energy Captured Underground at NIH

Photovoltaic solar collector panels have been installed on the roof of PNRC II as one of the project’s many energy-efficient features. The panels generate DC electricity, which is then converted to AC.

Photovoltaic solar collector panels have been installed on the roof of PNRC II as one of the project’s many energy-efficient features. The panels generate DC electricity, which is then converted to AC.

For the past 3 months on the west side of Bldg. 35, a high-tech drilling enterprise has been under way that will partially supply the Porter Neuroscience Research Center II with thermal energy to help cool the edifice. Although the geothermal drilling project was recently finished, work on piping the water through PNRC II is not yet complete.

The effort involved drilling about 100 feet from the building to approximately 1,500 feet down into the Earth to obtain 350,000 gallons of groundwater (or 8,600 gallons of water daily) annually from seven wells.

A drilling rig on the west side of PNRC II bores one of seven deep wells to provide geothermal energy to the building.

A drilling rig on the west side of PNRC II bores one of seven deep wells to provide geothermal energy to the building.

Photos: Frank Kutlak

“What we have been doing for the past 3 months is drilling deep enough into the Earth’s surface to reach groundwater at a temperature of some 45 degrees. Afterwards, we would return the water from the wells to the aquifer at 55 degrees. Meanwhile, the thermal energy generated by so doing is extracted for cooling purposes,” said Frank Kutlak, Office of Research Facilities (ORF) project manager and architect.

The 22-year NIH veteran added that geothermal drilling provides an environmentally friendly way to add another resource to the non-fossil fuel energy supply. It is expected to provide 60 tons of cooling capacity throughout the year.

Geothermal drilling has also been done at other local federal facilities, as well as some schools, Kutlak said.

“When this project was first planned, it did not have as many of the energy savings and sustainability features that it does now,” said ORF’s Glen Stonebraker. “The requirements within the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for sustainable design really caused us to go back and re-imagine what could be done, leading to the inclusion of features such as ground-source heat pumps and a partially green roof.”

Another component of the project involves solar collector panels installed on top of PNRC II. According to Kutlak, they are silicon composition panels that absorb rays from the sun and convert them to low-voltage DC electricity, which is then wired into the building where it is transformed into AC power. This complies with the electrical usage requirements of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

Meanwhile, this may not be the last geothermal drilling on campus. Although the latest endeavor represents the first drilling project of its kind at NIH, others could follow in time, if found cost-effective and energy-efficient.—Jan Ehrman


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