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Geothermal Energy

Advanced Thermal Conductivity Testing for Geothermal Heating and Cooling Systems

Company Name: Geothermal Design Center Inc.
Program Office: Geothermal
Location: Asheville, NC
Email: Rick Clemenzi, PE;
Award Amount: $100,000
Project Term: 12 months
Project Status: Active
Participating Lab(s): Oak Ridge National Laboratory


Geothermal Heat Pumps and ground heat exchangers are a critical technology for heating and cooling buildings with renewable energy. Importantly, they can be installed nearly anywhere and unlike geothermal power plants, do not require a nearby source of active geothermal energy. Instead, these systems take advantage of the thermal stability of the ground to heat and cool buildings, and its thermal mass to store energy for use in a later season.

When property owners consider installing these systems, they sometimes perform thermal conductivity tests to measure the earth's thermal properties at a given site. However, current testing methods are expensive, time consuming and require stable, uninterrupted power for two days to achieve adequate results. In many cases, property owners forgo testing and as a result, their ground heat exchangers are not ideally sized, leading to excess cost or reduced performance.

Geothermal Design Center aims to cut these testing costs through advanced data analysis and mathematical modeling of the ground. Oak Ridge National Laboratory is well-positioned to independently validate the company’s advanced thermal conductivity testing methodology. Such validation would speed the adoption of Geothermal Heat Pumps in the heating and cooling industry.


Geothermal Design Center aims to eliminate rigid requirements of two days of extremely stable power for thermal conductivity testing. Further, the new application can overcome other design weaknesses by eliminating subjective analysis of soil and drilling samples. Finally, the technology provides opportunities for testing ground heat exchangers after they are operational in geothermal heat pump systems to identify areas for design improvements.


Reducing costs for geothermal heat pumps can make them a more attractive option for homes and businesses, leading to long-term savings on heating and cooling costs, and further reducing electric utility peak supply capitalization costs.

Heating and cooling is often the largest cost associated with operating a building and the largest contributor to homeowners’ utility bills. Eliminating the need for fossil fuel energy to control indoor air temperature can dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants.

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