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Geothermal Field Covered Over, Parking to Return
A mucky mud pit: there's really no other description for the wide, fenced-in parcel of land next to building 1212 at NASA's Langley Research Center.

Formerly a parking lot, the 2.3-acre plot began undergoing a bit of a transformation late last November. That's when crews came in to tear up the pavement and begin work on a geothermal exchange field.

Geothermal Well Drilling

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A crew drills a well at the geothermal exchange field. The wells are part of a hybrid system that will help cool the Integrated Engineering Services Building. In all, the exchange field features 140 wells drilled to a depth of nearly 400 feet. Photo courtesy of Gary Stergin

Gary Stergin

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Gary Stergin, project manager for the Integrated Engineering Services Building, uses a hand-drawn schematic to explain how the geothermal exchange field will help cool the Integrated Engineering Services Building. Credit: NASA/Dave Bowman

That field is part of a system that will help cool the Integrated Engineering Services Building (IESB), also referred to as New Town II, slated to open in June of 2014.

In all, the exchange field features 140 wells, dug to a depth of almost 400 feet each. Crews did most of the drilling during the soggy, chilly months between December and March.

According to Gary Stergin, NASA Langley's project manager for the IESB, in a good week — one not hampered by weather delays — crews were able to drill about 15 wells. The ground temperature at the bottom of those wells hovers at around 62 degrees.

But this system, which Stergin refers to as a "hybrid," relies on more than just the cool ground temperatures to work.

"What makes it a hybrid," Stergin said, pointing at a hand-drawn schematic on a dry erase board in his office, "is the addition of this fluid cooler here, which is mostly, for lack of a better term, like a cooling tower. You see them all over the center here. And that's going to be installed on the roof of New Town II."

In general terms, a compressor at the building site will pump hot Freon gas through cooling coil heat exchangers that are fed by both the well field and the fluid cooler. The water in those coils will cool the Freon down from 140 degrees to about 90 degrees. The Freon will then travel to an expansion valve where it will cool down even more, to about 45 degrees. From there, it will circulate through cooling coils that have air blowing across them, providing cold air to the building.

Because the IESB will be the new home of the cafeteria (and all its associated industrial-size kitchen appliances), a lot of audio-visual equipment and an auditorium that will frequently play host to large groups of people, Stergin expects the heat load to be high.

"You're always going to be trying to shed heat from this building," he said.

So having an efficient cooling system is important. And Stergin expects the hybrid geothermal/fluid cooler system to work very efficiently — so much so that he's anticipating it will help the IESB earn a Gold rating from the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

In the meantime, work continues on the IESB, and the mucky mud pit next to building 1212 is beginning to look a little less, well, mucky. All the wells have been drilled and the 2.3-acre site has mostly been smoothed over.

Perhaps the most exciting news is that parking will soon return. By late May, Stergin says, crews will have the geothermal exchange field covered over in gravel, opening up about 150 spaces. The gravel is just a temporary measure.

"After completion of IESB, the cafeteria will be demolished," Stergin said. "We suspected that the contractor may be parking some heavy vehicles or using that as a material lay down area, so we didn't want to finish that parking lot and have it torn up again by Phase III."

Regardless, the parking will be welcome — and Stergin knows it.

"That'll certainly relieve some of the parking anxiety," he said.

By: Joe Atkinson

The Researcher News
NASA Langley Research Center
Editor & Curator: Denise Lineberry
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