UND engineering and geology students place first in U.S. Department of Energy geothermal competition

A proposal by UND engineering students to use abandoned oil and gas wells to heat homes has taken first place in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Spring 2021 Geothermal Collegiate Competition.

UND geology and geological engineering students, working with students at Reykjavik University in Iceland, researched the use of existing gas wells to generate geothermal energy for heat, food and jobs in Mandaree, N.D.

Will Gosnold

The team is led by Will Gosnold, Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Geology and Geological Engineering. This is the latest geology and geological engineering team led by him to place highly in national competitions.

The “Thermal Vision” team from UND took first place in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fall 2020 Geothermal Design Challenge with their high-quality graphic that illustrated the benefits of geothermal energy production.

The “PIG in a pipeline”  crew became semifinalists in the Geothermal Manufacturing Prize, a contest administered by the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The team won more than $30,000.

“Working with these students in four national competitions during the past two years has been the most rewarding experience in my 44-year career as a university professor,” Gosnold said. “Each team was multidisciplinary and diverse in many ways and that made a rich stew for ideas and approaches to the challenges in the competitions. The way it all works was elegantly stated by Isaac Asimov in a 1959 essay on how people get new ideas.”

About the geothermal project:

As oil and gas wells reach the end of their useful life, they could be repurposed to harvest geothermal heat from the Earth to heat homes and create opportunities for economic development, the students said in their video proposal, adding that Mandaree is a prime location to test the idea.

Located in the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, Mandaree is in the heart of the Williston Basin and Bakken Formation, the source of much of the nation’s oil.

The proposed project would draw hot water from aquifers deep below the surface to provide heat. The water would later be re-injected into the aquifer to prevent reservoir depletion. Temperatures in the aquifer below Mandaree exceed 70 degrees Celsius (158 degrees Fahrenheit), and are ideal for geothermal heating, the students said.

The warm water could also heat a greenhouse in Mandaree that could provide fruit and vegetables, the students said.

“According to studies done by our team, hundreds of geothermal district heating systems operate around the world,” said Moones Alamooti, UND doctoral student of geophysics. “There are only 21 in the United States. Mandaree has the potential to lead North Dakota into a geothermal energy future.”

About the competition:

The U.S. Department of Energy Geothermal Collegiate Competition engages college and university teams to design direct-use concepts leveraging geothermal energy to heat and cool buildings, campuses, districts, or entire communities. Students gain real-world renewable energy industry experience conceiving a use case, performing a resource assessment and usage evaluation, and planning alongside community stakeholders.

From top and left to right: Will Gosnold, faculty advisor; Moones Alamooti; Nicholas Fry, Missoual, Mont.; Shane Namie, Spokane, Wash.; Jessica Eagle-Bluestone, New Town, N.D.; Matthew Villante, Clermont, Fla.; Chioma Onwumelu, Jerjes Porlles. Not pictured: Nnaemeka Ngobidi and Ogonna Obinwa, Sacramento, Calif.

Geothermal Team members:

Members of the geothermal team are Nicholas Fry, Reykjavik University, master’s in sustainable energy sciences; Moones Alamooti, doctoral student in geophysics; Ogonna Obinwa, master’s student in petroleum engineering from Sacramento, Calif.; Chioma Onwumelu, doctoral student in geology; Shane Namie, doctoral student in geological engineering from Spokane, Wash.; Jerjes Porlles, doctoral student in petroleum engineering; Jessica Eagle-Bluestone, master’s student in petroleum engineering from New Town, N.D.; Nnaemeka Ngobidi, doctoral student in geology; and Matthew Villante, Clermont, Fla.; and Nicholas Fry, Missoula, Mont., both master’s students in sustainable energy from Reykjavik University in Iceland.

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