Boston University’s new Center for Computing and Data Sciences will get nearly all its heating and cooling needs from underground heat exchangers.
The building will circulate water 1,500 feet underground, where it will maintain a temperature of 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. In the winter the temperature can be boosted using heat pumps to keep the building warm, and in the summer the water temperature is cool enough to provide air conditioning.
The heat pumps will operate through 31 boreholes and provide 300 tons of heating or cooling capacity. The underground heat exchangers will provide 90% of the building’s heating and cooling needs, the university says. Boston University also has a smaller geothermal building, which is heated and cooled by six wells.
Geothermal heat pumps are increasing in use, according to the Department of Energy. They can be used for heating, cooling, and heating water and because they use ground source heat do not need to rely on combustion from fossil fuels. According to the EPA, geothermal heat pumps can reduce energy consumption by up to 72% compared with electric-based heating and cooling equipment.
A recent study from several academic institutions including Boston University says buildings should transition to the most energy-efficient technologies possible to meet energy needs during the highest demand times, which occurs in the winter. That research specifically mentioned ground source heat pumps as a good option for making energy improvements.
Smith College, also in Massachusetts, recently broke ground on a six-year, $210 million geothermal campus energy project that it says will reduce its emissions by 90%. The college first used a geothermal heat pump to heat and cool its fieldhouse in 2019.
Google is using a geothermal pile system that was integrated into the design of its 42-acre Bay View campus, which the company says will reduce its emissions by 50%.
The sustainable nature of the Boston University building, which will house the mathematics, statistics, and computer science departments, is part of the school’s plan to be carbon neutral by 2040. The university also has a power purchase agreement for renewable energy from a South Dakota wind farm.
The center, which will open later in 2022, comprises 19 stories and 345,000 square feet and has been described as a tower of Jenga blocks. The university says it will be the largest fossil-fuel-free building in Boston and the first on campus.