Sunday, December 21, 2014

Ground Power: Mayo Goes Geothermal

The new Mayo Clinic Dialysis Center in Menomonie is designed to help patients whose kidneys aren’t functioning properly. It’s also designed to help the environment.

When the new facility opens in early spring, all its heating and cooling needs will be controlled through a geothermal energy system.

“It will be a lot more energy efficient,” said Bob Dubiel, director of Construction Services at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire. It’s especially beneficial for a dialysis center, which traditionally requires a lot of energy to maintain cooler temperatures.

“The building contains 24 dialysis stations, and each dialysis unit pumps out a lot of heat,” he said. “It’s like little furnaces everywhere.”

In geothermal heating and cooling, facilities use ground temperature to help control facility temperatures.

To cool the dialysis center, heat from the facility is captured by heat pumps, condensed into fluid, and then circulated through a network of pipes buried 8 to10 feet beneath the ground, where the soil remains about 48 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. The fluid takes on the chilled temperature and returns to the facility to cool the air.

During winter, the fluid is warmed by heat from the ground. That warmth is concentrated in the heat pumps and then sent through the building.

More and more businesses are turning to geothermal energy for their heating and cooling needs, says Jeff Urlaub, a project engineer with MEP Associates, an Eau Claire-based engineering firm.

“We’ve really seen interest pick up in the last few years,” he said, noting that MEP Associates have designed more than 150 geothermal systems nationwide, including the nation’s largest geothermal project on the campus of Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.

Although, theoretically, geothermal energy can be harnessed anywhere there’s ground, it’s not always practical to do so.

“It takes a lot of surface area,” Urlaub said. The dialysis site contains 34 tubes buried beneath a 300-by-30 foot plot.

The Menomonie facility shares an identical blueprint to the Mayo Clinic Dialysis Center on London Road in Eau Claire. Because the Eau Claire location is powered through conventional electricity, it will allow for comparison between the two energy sources.

“We can’t wait until we’re up and running to see what a difference it’s making,” Dubiel said.

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