$5 million grant secures funding for 1st phase of Ball State's geothermal project

Ball State University received a $5 million grant for its geothermal project from the U.S. Department of Energy on Thursday.

"We're very grateful, especially for the help we've received from our federal congressmen and senators," said Philip Sachtleben, associate vice president for government relations at Ball State.

Sachtleben said the grant, which is part of President Barack Obama's stimulus package, is for ground source heating. Ball State was one of three schools in the country to receive the maximum $5 million, he said. Criteria for the grant included innovativeness, project management (whether Ball State knows what it's doing) and allotment of responsibilities.

"Because we got the maximum grant, we must have been pretty close to exactly what they wanted," Sachtleben said. "This project is very innovative; there's nothing like it in the country."

He said he doesn't know if it is rare for the federal government to give $5 million grants to universities, but it is rare for Ball State itself to apply for a grant. Usually it's the faculty members at universities that apply for grants, he said.

Jim Lowe, director of engineering and operations, said what is new about the geothermal project is that Ball State will be moving and reusing a renewable energy source.

"We're getting every bit of value out of our input and I find that to be innovative," Lowe said. "It's an innovative move to use energy sources to its maximum potential, therefore reducing our carbon footprint and utility costs."

Lowe said Ball State is on schedule to finish phase one of the geothermal project – the north side of campus – by Fall Semester 2011.

Sachtleben said Ball State hopes to use the grant money to pay for the underground pipes that will help move the geothermal energy from one campus building to another. But how the money is spent will ultimately be negotiated between Ball State and the Department of Energy, he said.

He said the $5 million grant ensures the university will have enough money to finish phase one of the project, which is also being paid for with $41 million from the state.

Ball State has also applied for a second grant of about $40 million from the federal government, Sachtleben said. The grant is for district energy systems that utilize alternative energy systems, such as geothermal power. He said district energy systems are central heating and cooling plans that serve multiple buildings – or campuses, in Ball State's case.

Sachtleben said he expects the second grant to be announced by September. Ball State needs the grant, or an equivalent source of funding, to complete the entire geothermal project within four years, he said.

For updates on this story and Ball State's geothermal project continue to check bsudailynews.com.


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