UIUC’s Largest Geothermal System Goes Online

Apr 29, 2021

CIF 900
(Pictured from L – R) Clarence Odom, Morgan White, Dr. Mohamed Attalla,  Dr. Andrew Stumpf, Dr. Tugce Baser, and Frank Holcomb)

CHAMPAIGN, IL – The largest geothermal energy system implemented at the university so far went online in April, at the Campus Instructional Facility (CIF) ahead of its opening this coming fall. The CIF system is the fifth geothermal installation at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and can provide 135 tons of heating and/or cooling, twice as much as the next most recent geothermal installation on campus property.

Located at the southeast corner of Springfield Avenue and Wright Street in Urbana, the $75M CIF is a state-of-the-art 122,000 gross square foot facility that will support The Grainger College of Engineering’s transformative learning and teaching environments. The geothermal system comprises 40 vertical borehole exchange loops in the adjacent Bardeen Quadrangle and has enough capacity to handle the energy needed for approximately 30 American homes.


The borehole exchange loops pull heat from the ground into the building in the winter months and transfer the heat out of the building in the summer months for cooling. By including geothermal at CIF, the project team is expecting to reduce annual energy consumption by 65 percent, compared to a conventional heating and cooling system.

This reduction in energy usage will provide an annual savings of $45,000, or $1.35M over the operational 30- to 50-year lifespan of the system. Because of the cost-effective design and direct support of the Illinois Climate Action Plan (iCAP) goals for clean energy, the Student Sustainability Committee contributed $375,000 toward this geothermal system, from the Cleaner Energy Technologies Fee. 

“This innovative project highlights how building-level renewable energy systems can be successfully incorporated in new construction and major renovations like with the unique public-private partnership that delivered the CIF,” said Dr. Mohamed Attalla, executive director of Facilities & Services. “This project comes as part of our F&S commitment to support renewable energy, which is part of the F&S Strategic Plan and the recently released Energy Management Plan that describes our goals for promoting new technology to achieve campus objectives to reduce our carbon footprint." 

F&S Executive Director Dr. Mohamed Attalla takes a tour at CIF.
Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Dr. Tugce Baser, and F&S Executive Director Dr. Mohamed Attalla take a tour of the Campus Instructional Facility geothermal system.

In 2020, F&S collaborated with UIUC researchers and industry leaders to found the Illinois Geothermal Coalition (IGC), with the vision to be a central networking hub that catalyzes advancements of geothermal technologies through engagement, research, and education. Geothermal energy is one of the clean, low carbon energy solutions needed for achieving iCAP goals for the university. Geothermal energy systems also add significant resiliency to energy management planning because of the constant thermal energy available when other energy sources may be unavailable or hindered by market-demands, extreme weather, or longer-termed climate change impacts.

The CIF geothermal system was designed using data acquired and analyzed from a nearby geothermal monitoring well, installed to guide the project design. Researchers from the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS) and Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) installed a geothermal monitoring well 385 feet deep on the Bardeen Quad in late 2018. Using results from digital thermal response testing and associated field and laboratory analyses, such as ground temperature measurements and subsurface geologic and geophysical mapping, the CIF project team reduced the overall borefield size from 60 to 40 wells. This evaluation was critical to shortening the projected payback period and allowing the geothermal energy system to be included as a part of the CIF.

Dr. Andrew Stumpf of the ISGS said, “This is the first geothermal energy system on campus that used findings from a monitoring well. Even though geothermal energy has been used for decades in the Midwest, people still view district-scale geothermal energy systems as challenging to implement due to incurred drilling expenses and geological uncertainties that may exist underground. When we first investigate the ground conditions in specific areas through fiber optic temperature measurements and other field and laboratory techniques, we can use the resulting data to make improved design decisions, enhance long-term cost-effectiveness, and provide for greater efficiency of district-scale geothermal projects.”

Frank Holcomb (senior researcher with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers), Clarence Odom (F&S associate director of Capital Programs, Project Management), and Dr. Andrew Stumpf, discuss the connections between the CIF's system and the Illinois Geothermal Coalition.

F&S Associate Director for Sustainability, Morgan White said, “F&S was supportive of funding the monitoring well, with our partners at the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment, because working closely with researchers and project development teams to achieve carbon reduction goals enables transformative and cost-effective solutions like the geothermal installation at CIF. That is also why we are actively participating in the IGC.”

The ISGS, one of the five state scientific surveys of the Prairie Research Institute (PRI), will release a comprehensive research report regarding the subsurface conditions, as well as advanced laboratory testing and numerical modeling performed by faculty and students in CEE. The report will focus on the importance of the underground geology and hydrogeology, and how the physical properties of the glacial deposits and sedimentary bedrock impact the transfer of heat and flow of groundwater at the particular site. The ISGS will collaborate with other members of the recently formed IGC to develop policies for integrating geoscience research and geothermal energy systems into the campus energy enterprise, including reviewing the potential benefits of these systems in energy efficiency and underground thermal energy storage.

For more information on the geothermal project, visit the iCAP Portal at https://icap.sustainability.illinois.edu/project/campus-instructional-facility-cif-geothermal.

Also, watch for a CIF ribbon cutting announcement this fall. 

Media Contact:

Department Contact:

Steve Breitwieser

Morgan White

Customer Relations & Communications

Facilities & Services

Associate Director for Sustainability
Facilities & Services





CIF – Geothermal News Release PDF