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Meggers wins funding for study on deep wells that sequester carbon dioxide and heat buildings

Published on February 2, 2017 by Sharon Adarlo

Forrest Meggers, assistant professor of architecture and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, has received funding from Princeton University’s Project X Innovation Fund for a novel experiment that explores deep geothermal wells to heat buildings and cities while simultaneously sequestering carbon dioxide emissions.

Heat or geothermal energy naturally emanates from the Earth’s molten core. Harnessing this power requires drilling deep boreholes into the ground, which is an expensive process. In Meggers’ project, “Sequestering building heat demand and CO2 simultaneously: investigating wells for heat and CO2 injection,” Meggers proposes utilizing existing deep wells that have been used to extract fossil fuels to sequester CO2 and tap underground heat. This mitigates costs for drilling new holes.

“In preliminary work, we have leveraged data from the recently released National Geothermal Database System to investigate how a large network of existing holes can be exploited for medium-­-grade geothermal heat,” said Meggers. “The dataset for Pennsylvania shows 18,000 wells with typical depths of more than 1000 meters and temperatures more than 35 degrees Celsius or 95 degrees Fahrenheit. This heat can be pumped directly into buildings.”

The geothermal energy would be harnessed for a district heating system, where heat for household and commercial use would be generated in a centralized location and distributed throughout a district. An alternative to individual boilers, engineers say district heating is more energy efficient, has lower carbon emissions, and saves money over the long run. District heating systems have been utilized in the Netherlands and Iceland.

Meggers proposes using pressurized carbon dioxide to transfer heat up and down from the boreholes’ terminus to the surface. The CO2 is sequestered underground for this use – thus reducing atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions.

In this proposed two-year study, Meggers and his team plan on building a model setup of the well system at the School of Architecture’s new Embodied Computation Laboratory. This involves drilling a 2,000-foot borehole.

More on the Project X Fund

Project X Fund, whose goal is to support bold thinking and unconventional ideas, provides seed funding to engineers who wish to pursue projects that may be outside their formal areas of expertise or are too speculative to attract conventional funding. The fund, established by Lynn Shostack in memory of her late husband, David Gardner ’69, has supported research ranging from an exploration of techniques to sterilize hospital rooms to the development of an idea for playing realistic three-dimensional sound from conventional speakers.

 Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment

The mission of the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment is to develop solutions to ensure our energy and environmental future. To this end, the center supports a vibrant and expanding program of research and teaching in the areas of sustainable energy-technology development, energy efficiency, and environmental protection and remediation. A chief goal of the center is to translate fundamental knowledge into practical solutions that enable sustainable energy production and the protection of the environment and global climate from energy-related anthropogenic change.

For more information on the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, contact Sharon Adarlo, communications specialist, at sadarlo@princeton.edu or (609) 258-9979.