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UND engineering students tap into western North Dakota’s geothermal potential

Gosnold: Applications abound for heating, greenhouse farming, aquaculture

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Members of UND's student geothermal research team Moones Alamooti, Nnaemeka Ngobidi, Shane Namie and Jerjes Porlles-Hurtado (back left to right), Chioma Onwumelu, Jessica Eagle-Bluestone and Caity Smith, geothermal project manager with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (front left to right), pose at a community stakeholder event in New Town, N.D. on Friday, Nov. 4, 2022.
National Renewable Energy Lab
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GRAND FORKS – A team of UND engineering students is conducting research into the potential of harnessing geothermal energy from existing oil and gas wells in western North Dakota.

The team, led by UND professor of geology and geological engineering Will Gosnold, is composed of graduate and doctoral students who have competed in several national competitions sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. Their most recent success was a first-place finish at the Department of Energy’s spring 2021 geothermal collegiate competition, for their proposal on heating homes with energy obtained from wells.

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Gosnold praised his students’ achievements.

“They are great at pulling their team together, and selecting the people they need to deal with all of the issues raised at these competitions,” said Gosnold. “I’m really proud of them.”

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UND professor of geology and geological engineering Will Gosnold
Jackie Lorentz

The winning proposal at the 2021 geothermal collegiate competition, examines the feasibility of utilizing geothermal energy to heat homes in Mandaree, N.D. The heating process entails siphoning hot water from underground aquifers through wells, and transferring it into area homes via pipeline for heating. The water is then pumped back into the aquifer to prevent depletion.

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According to Gosnold, the location of the research within the Inyan Kara formation, provides favorable geologic conditions for the students’ project.

“The wells within Inyan Kara are shallower and produce a lot of water,” said Gosnold. “The water temperature there regularly exceeds the 70 degrees Celsius (158 degrees Fahrenheit) necessary for district heating.”

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The process behind using geothermal energy for district heating is outlined
University of North Dakota

Gosnold also said geothermal’s applications extend beyond generating energy for area homes.

“We can take the water and run it through grain drying operations, greenhouse systems and eventually through commercial fish farms,” said Gosnold. “All of this would be easy to do in North Dakota.”

The students then took their research to nearby New Town, N.D., for a community stakeholder event on Nov. 4, to discuss a potential district heating system and geothermal powered greenhouse for the community.

Gosnold said the event was informative, and well received by the community.

“The students had both a morning and afternoon session, and there were 70 to 80 attendees at each one,” said Gosnold. “There were representatives from the Department of Energy, along with tribal representatives and leaders. The students told me that residents and faculty at the local community college are interested in moving forward with the development. The people of New Town now have a blueprint for how to proceed.”

Gosnold said if New Town decides to move forward with the geothermal heating project, final steps will include selecting drilling depths and locations, and hiring contractors to design the pipeline network that would carry the hot water where it is needed.

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“If New Town decides that they want to pursue district heating, this is something that would involve engineering firms designing pipework to get the water into distribution systems,” said Gosnold.

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