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On a recent spring morning drilling equipment clattered away on the University of California at Berkeley campus where scientists and engineers are looking for a way to improve the efficiency of a new, planned campus heating and cooling system.

The boring project started March 28 on the campus’s north side and by the end of the week, an 8-inch drill bit had burrowed 400 feet into the ground.

Scientists want to understand the properties of the bedrock under the surface of campus to see if it can be used for a geothermal heat pump system. That system would allow for more efficient heating and cooling of campus buildings and could be part of the university’s efforts to decarbonize its energy use.

“We want to become a clean operating campus,” said Kira Stoll, chief sustainability and carbon solutions officer for UC Berkeley.

The work this particular day was a shallow geothermal project compared to a deep geothermal one that goes as deep as 10,000 feet.

“It’s going to let us see what is happening at that depth and better understand the possibility of using geothermal heat pumps on campus.”

Kenichi Soga, UC Berkeley

Most drilling on campus goes down 60 to 80 feet when a new building is going to be built, but this drilling project was designed to go down farther than anyone has ever drilled on campus.

“It’s going to let us see what is happening at that depth and better understand the possibility of using geothermal heat pumps on campus,” said Kenichi Soga, the chancellor’s professor and Donald H. McLaughlin chair in mineral engineering at UC Berkeley, in a statement.

Geothermal heat pump systems use a network of water pipes that run through boreholes 400 to 500 feet below ground. These systems ideally store heat generated by cooling buildings in the summer and use that heat for warming buildings in the winter.

The university is decommissioning its 40-year-old cogeneration plant, which burns natural gas. The new, planned heating and cooling system will be electric and use water pipes to heat and cool campus buildings.

If UC Berkeley can incorporate geothermal technology into the new electric system, it will be more efficient.

The drilling is being paid for primarily through The Green Initiative Fund, which funds projects like this one with student fees. Upward of $75,000 from The Green Initiative Fund is going toward this project.

“It’s our largest project funded to date,” said Teresa Yu, coordinator for The Green Initiative Fund, which is administered by a committee that is made up of a majority of students.

The subsurface exploration is meant to inform other efforts that could be done in other cities or districts in California, the U.S. and globally.

UC Berkeley’s goal is to have the campus transition to 100 percent clean energy by 2028.