University community views geo-exchange construction up close


More than 100 University of Michigan community members gathered Nov. 3 at the site of the future Central Campus residential development to observe construction efforts that will advance the university’s progress toward carbon neutrality.

Three rigs have been drilling boreholes for a geo-exchange system that will heat and cool the dining hall and adjacent parts of the complex.

“Geo-exchange is a promising, immediately actionable technology in the Midwest,” said Shana Weber, associate vice president for campus sustainability. “Paired with future renewable electricity, it will be entirely combustion-free. Today’s geo-exchange projects will set the stage for much wider adoption across the university and beyond.”

U-M has three geo-exchange projects under construction:

  • A system that will serve the Central Campus residential complex.
  • The Hayward Street Geothermal Facility on North Campus.
  • A system that will serve the Edward and Rosalie Ginsberg Building.
Photo of U-M community members viewing geo-exchange drilling efforts on Nov. 3 at the future site of the Central Campus residential complex.
U-M community members view geo-exchange drilling efforts on Nov. 3 at the future site of the Central Campus residential complex. (Photo by Joe Borek, UMSocial)

“I’m encouraged to see our community rally around such a tangible effort,” said Kelly Jones, who manages Planet Blue Ambassadors, a program that serves as an entry point to sustainability resources for students, faculty and staff across the university.

“Carbon neutrality efforts can sometimes seem invisible and highly technical. So as U-M builds geo-exchange facilities that will spur our progress, it’s important that we inform our community about them, and give them opportunities to experience this work first-hand.”

Geo-exchange explained

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One of the university’s carbon neutrality commitments is to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from campus sources — known as Scope 1 emissions — by 2040. Rethinking heating and cooling infrastructure will be key to achieving this goal.

Although the terms “geothermal” and “geo-exchange” often are used interchangeably, geo-exchange systems are different in that they extract and return heat in a renewable cycle.

During the summer, the systems take excess heat from buildings and store it in the ground. Then in the winter, the reverse happens, and the same system is used to bring the stored heat from the ground into buildings.

Geothermal systems, by contrast, extract heat from the ground but do not return it to be used again.

Graphic that shows how geo-exchange systems work to heat and cool buildings.
This drawing shows how geo-exchange systems work to heat and cool buildings. (Graphic by Kelly Jones, Graham Sustainability Institute)

Generally speaking, buildings in cold-weather climates have higher energy demands, so a nearby and consistent heat source can be especially valuable. Because geo-exchange systems move heat from wherever it is being rejected to wherever it is being consumed, they are particularly efficient. This benefits institutions like U-M that include a variety of building types with diverse energy demands.

Hayward Street Geothermal Facility

The Hayward Street Geothermal Facility, adjacent to the Bob and Betty Beyster Building on North Campus, has been under construction since January. The project — U-M’s first in geo-exchange — consists of 99 borings that are each 700 feet deep and spaced 19-20 feet apart. It features an enclosed-loop system, meaning the installation will have no contact with groundwater or soils.

Once operational, the Hayward Street system will heat and cool the Leinweber Computer Science and Information Building, which will serve the School of Information as well as the College of Engineering’s Computer Science and Engineering Division.

The geo-exchange facility is expected to be able to begin cooling the building in summer 2024 and heating the building in fall 2024.

The Leinweber Building will be all-electric and the first large-scale university building to not rely on natural gas for heating.

U-M seeks to pursue district-level geo-exchange systems that could serve multiple buildings at once, and a 4,000-square-foot heating and cooling auxiliary building will be located near the borings to potentially connect with future systems on North Campus.

The Hayward Street system’s construction also complements simultaneous North Campus utility master planning, which is identifying opportunities to decarbonize the campus’ heating and cooling infrastructure.

Central Campus projects

Near Central Campus, geo-exchange construction efforts are ongoing for the Edward and Rosalie Ginsberg Building at 1024 Hill St. The 11,000-square-foot facility will replace the Ginsberg Center’s current home, the 7,500-square-foot Madelon Pound House, and is expected to be completed by spring 2025.

This project also consists of an enclosed-loop system, with eight borings that are each 535 feet deep and spaced 20 feet apart.

Once operational, and U-M meets its goal to procure 100% of its purchased electricity from renewable sources by 2025, the Ginsberg Building will become the first carbon-neutral building on Central Campus.

The Ginsberg Building project also will include a number of additional eco-friendly features, including a high-performance roof and wall insulation for energy efficiency, as well as low-flow plumbing fixtures for water conservation.

The Central Campus residential complex’s geo-exchange system will consist of more than 80 borings that are each 800 feet deep, across available green space. Drilling is expected to conclude this year.

Additional sustainable features planned for the housing and dining project include energy-efficient building standards and rooftop solar panels. The 2,300-bed complex is designed to earn Platinum certification in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, the highest-level LEED certification given by the U.S. Green Building Council.


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