What is Deep Geothermal Heating?

Cornell University is exploring the use of heat from deep beneath the Earth’s surface (“deep geothermal heat”) as a sustainable method to warm its Ithaca campus. The project, called Earth Source Heat, is a major component of Cornell University’s proposed solutions to achieve carbon neutrality by 2035.

The summer of 2022 through Spring 2023 was an interval of geological discovery, as a scientific borehole was drilled to explore the geology beneath our feet in Central New York State for its potential for deep geothermal heat. At the Going Deep Summer ’22 tab in the main website menu, we share preliminary results (newly posted, June 2023) as well as a lengthy set of weekly updates from the Summer 2022 drilling activity that present geology and engineering findings. The first video on this page presents the motivation for this geothermal energy exploration activity. Near the bottom of this page, a wrap-up video summarizes the 2022 activities while drilling the Cornell University Borehole Observatory.

,Most buildings in the US are heated with fossil fuels. That’s also true for buildings in New York State and on the Cornell University campus. The burning of fossil fuels heats more than buildings. The carbon dioxide released by burning those fuels also heats the planet. Global warming from the burning of fossil fuels endangers us all.

In colder climates, heating buildings can generate more than a quarter of total carbon emissions. We must transition to other, “low carbon” ways to keep ourselves warm. We must make our buildings much more energy efficient, and replace fossil fuels as primary energy sources for heating and cooling buildings.

Below us, everywhere on the planet, are rocks warmed by the Earth’s internal heat. This heat is deeper and hotter than the geothermal heat that is already commonly used, from stable temperatures just under Earth’s the surface. Cornell’s Deep Geothermal Heat Research aims to better understand how hot temperatures thousands of feet below our feet can be tapped to heat the Ithaca campus. The project also aims to demonstrate how such technologies can be safely deployed around the country and around the world. The project is called “Earth Source Heat.” 

The video below is a wrap-up of digging the Cornell University Borehole Observatory in Summer ’22 to learn about the potential to generate heat in the strata below the Cornell campus.

Cornell University has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2035. As half of the energy used for the university’s main campus in Ithaca, NY is used for heating, the work of the Earth Source Heat (ESH) Project is essential to meet that ambitious and important goal.