Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Visit to the Geothermal Lab at SMU

Last week I had the opportunity to visit with Maria Richards, Coordinator of Southern Methodist University’s Geothermal Lab and Bonnie Jacobs, a member of the faculty of the Department of Earth Sciences at SMU, which operates the lab. Three engineers, volunteers from The Real Estate Council of Dallas, and Brent Brown, founder of the buildingcommunityWORKSHOP, also attended. I often need translators if the discussion gets to technical, so I was glad they were there.

The meeting was fascinating.

I love maps, and the walls of the conference room where we met were covered with great maps like this:

I may not be sure of all what the map means, but the colors are great and, there’s a lot of information on it.

More usefully, I found out about all sorts of fascinating technologies, many of them practical right now, that I had no idea existed. There are at least four different technologies that have possible uses for the Re:Vision Dallas project.

First, if we could tap into the Trinity Aquifer, it might be possible to circulate warm water through some of the greenhouse or other agricultural features of the project, saving money and extending the growing season.

Second, there is the possibility of using heat pumps to lower utility costs. Heat pumps are a proven technology and already in use in the Dallas area.

Third, there is a device called an absorption chiller, which runs a chemical solution through underground pipes and helps provide cooling for the project, reducing energy costs.

Finally, the holy grail of geothermal energy production is the actual production of energy using the temperature differential between the surface and the bottom of the well. Think of it as air conditioning in reverse. Instead of using power to change the air temperature, it uses the temperature differential to produce electricity.

I’ll try to write some more on these possibilities after I’ve thought them through a little more, and had some more conversations with people who know more than I do, but until then, you might take a look at some of the information at the web page for SMU’s Geothermal Lab: http://smu.edu/geothermal/.

There may be some significant possibilities for renewal energy production besides the wind and solar power that everyone thinks of first.

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