New England High Tech Looks to Geo Exchange for Renewable Cooling

Andover Corporation in Salem, New Hampshire has joined the list of high-tech companies turning to renewable energy to meet the intensive cooling demands of their business operations. Instead of turning to the familiar solutions such as solar or wind turbines, Andover dug deep, more specifically one thousand feet deep, to install a new type of geothermal cooling system. Andover produces ultra-high resolution optical imaging systems for satellites as well as other sensitive optical instrumentation, a process which requires energy-intensive cooling equipment. “We generate large amounts of heat during production so cooling represents a high-energy, high-cost item for us.” says Andover Corporation facilities manager Ron Watson. “We needed a way to increase cooling capacity while at the same time lowing the cost of that process. We studied the approaches of cooling intensive industries like IT and data centers before deciding on our solution.

We wanted to take advantage of the one thing we could always depend on, which is a 50 degree New England formation at 1000′ down. This is why we went with the new geo exchange technology.

Andover utilized a special composite-based ground heat exchange system developed by Rygan Corporation of Tulsa, Oklahoma to offset the energy demand of cooling. The Rygan system has been in commercial use around the country since 2008, but is recently becoming adopted for more cooling specific applications. The composite-based ground heat exchanger has low thermal resistance which enables a more efficient heat exchange with the cool New England ground.

The high strength of the composite material enables deployment depths that are impractical or impossible for the traditional plastic piping that has been used in geothermal heat exchanges since the 1970’s. The ability to go deeper equates to higher capacity and efficiency with a minor footprint. “The Rygan system enabled us to make maximum use of Andover’s limited space for drilling. The performance we’ve achieved wouldn’t have been remotely possible with a traditional closed loop system.” explained Reidar Bomengen who is the vice president of Maher Drilling Services, the installing contractor. “The new technology gives us an ability to operate efficiently at depths that aren’t practical for traditional systems. Composite technology allowed us to deliver a highly efficient, geo-based cooling solution to a site that would have otherwise been ineligible due to space constraints. It’s been so successful at Andover that we’ll be installing another 2,000 feet this summer to accommodate increased production.”

“Open” systems operate much like water wells but rather than the submerged pump sending ground water to a holding tank, it circulates through a geothermal heat pump located inside the home or building. The used water is then deposited back into the same well or an alternate one. A “closed” system circulates water through a series of sealed plastic hoses or pipes which are grouted into vertical well bores or laid out horizontally in trenches. This continual loop of water is recirculated through the buried pipes and the top side heat pump. Each system has pros and cons, according to Bomengen. “Open systems tend to be more efficient because they have direct and uninsulated access to the thermal energy contained in ground water. The down side is that ground water often contains iron and other minerals harmful to mechanical systems.” The iron and mineral laden ground water beneath Andover was constantly fouling pipes and pumps rendering the cooling system unreliable and costly to maintain. Ron Watson of Andover stated “System maintenance was constant, we never knew from day to day if we could rely on it to keep mission critical equipment cool. It was simply too unreliable and risky, we couldn’t depend on it for our daily production needs which have non-negotiable cooling demands.”

Heat pumps are never directly exposed to ground water in closed systems and submerged pumps aren’t necessary – a distinct advantage for maintenance. The drawback is they aren’t as efficient. The plastic piping protecting the system from ground water minerals also insulates it from thermal energy. More loops must be drilled to overcome the insulation increasing land space requirements and cost.

The recent technological advancements haven’t escaped one of the world’s largest engineering and environmental companies, AMEC (London Stock Exchange:AMEC). With over 27,000 scientist and environmental engineers, AMEC has a global presence and is an established leader for geothermal based designs that incorporate smart technologies. Sr. AMEC Project Manager, John Peterson partnered with Reidar Bomengen in utilizing Rygan technology on both the Longfellow House and Olmstead National Park.

Reidar Bomengen installs thousand foot deep Rygan ground heat exchangers for the Andover corporation who manufature high-tech optical equipment for satellites. The new geo-based system cools the heat intensive production process at a fraction of the cost of the older chiller system.

According to Peterson the new technology provided the National Park Service with a sustainable, geo-based solution which would have otherwise been impossible due to land space constraints and archeological restrictions. “Andover wasn’t the only open system that suffered from harsh ground water. There are many open systems in New England that require constant service work or at worst have to be abandoned and back filled. Utilizing the Rygan technology, we can save an expensive asset, the well bore, and deliver the required thermal performance. The performance level is unprecedented for a closed loop system which sets an entirely new level of expectation for design and performance. The results we see on these sites simply aren’t achievable with traditional systems, open or closed.” Peterson believes that systems like Rygan’s will serve a purpose beyond those of just the National Park Service. “Technologies like this speak to the bigger picture of alleviating stress on the electrical grid. We use unfathomable amounts of energy for space conditioning and geo is a proven method of cutting that demand level by half or more. Wide spread adoption would actually mitigate the needs for new power plants and transmission infrastructure. It’s simply a question of where we spend our dollars…on generating additional power or on reducing its need with smart technology.”

Peterson and Bomengen agree that the new composite based system enables solutions they couldn’t have conceived of 5 years ago. “It’s completely changed our design and implementation approach to geothermal” says Bomengen. “We think it’s certainly come at the right time for industries starving for more cost effective cooling capacity. The electric grid is aging and energy costs are becoming more volatile at the same time demand for industrial sized cooling is increasing. We expect to see this solution incorporated into future designs, especially in areas like New England with cool formation temperatures. The ground beneath our feet is one thing we know we can rely on; new material technology just helps us tap into it more effectively.”

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