Kenichi Soga Leads Exploration of Geothermal Heating on Campus

Featured Faculty: Kenichi Soga


In late March, UC Berkeley engineers drilled a borehole that extends 400 feet below ground, providing the first opportunity to study the properties of the bedrock that sits below campus. The information they gather will help determine whether a geothermal heat pump system — which uses the thermal properties of subsurface rock to help heat and cool buildings more efficiently — could be integrated into the campus’s long-term plans for decarbonization.

Professor Kenichi Soga leads the team of engineers in drilling what has become the deepest borehole within UC Berkeley. “Nobody has ever drilled this deep beneath the campus,” said Soga, the Chancellor’s Professor and Donald H. McLaughlin Chair in Mineral Engineering. “Most of the boreholes that we have on campus are used for designing new buildings and typically only go down to 60 or 80 feet. Now, we’re going to 400 feet. It’s going to let us see what is happening at that depth and better understand the possibility of using geothermal heat pumps on campus.”

As part of the Clean Energy Campus Initiative, campus plans to decommission its 40-year-old cogeneration plant and replace its current steam heating system with one that uses water pipes to heat and cool buildings. The current system relies on natural gas to produce electricity and steam heat, while the new system will use electricity for both power and thermal needs. Essentially, campus would replace the use of natural gas with entirely clean energy sources, such as wind and solar, to meet campus's heating and cooling needs.

The borehole will provide the UC Berkeley engineers with the first detailed measurements of the geological conditions hundreds of feet below the campus, a necessary first step in determining whether geothermal technologies can be used to make this heating and cooling system even more energy efficient. 

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