Go Green: Geothermal interns highlight SUNY Broome’s drive toward sustainable energy

Right to left: Anthony Sweet, Keith Paciga, Dominique Arno, Brandon Kipp, and Professor Robert Lofthouse

Right to left: Anthony Sweet, Keith Paciga, Dominique Arno, Brandon Kipp, and Professor Robert Lofthouse

In recent months, crews have drilled wells in the Quad, laying the groundwork for the geothermal system that will heat and cool the new Paul and Mary Calice and Mildred Barton Advanced Manufacturing Center.

The massive project is probably the most visible of SUNY Broome’s green energy efforts. While it will reduce the college’s carbon footprint and save energy costs, the geothermal system also plays a role in educating SUNY Broome students on the technologies of tomorrow.

“We want to become a place where people come to learn about green energy,” explained Engineering Science Professor Robert Lofthouse.

The project has already sparked a student internship program, under Lofthouse’s guidance. The internship program began about a year and a half ago, when the college received a $1 million grant as part of the state’s Energy to Lead competition. The competition, first announced by the governor in October 2015, challenged student-led coalitions from New York colleges and universities to design and develop innovative plans for campus and community-wide clean energy projects.

Dubbed the “Sustainability Sandbox,” SUNY Broome’s Geothermal Learning Laboratory project will show how a geothermal system can harness the energy stored in the earth to heat and cool a campus, serve as a hands-on learning resource for college and secondary school students, and generate energy bill savings that can be reinvested in energy conservation measures. The project is expected to result in the avoidance of 135 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually.

The geothermal wells were drilled in the campus Quad.

The geothermal wells were drilled in the campus Quad.

Student interns were involved in construction meetings during the design process of the Calice Center, and helped experts with the design of the Sustainability Sandbox, Lofthouse said. They helped organize a recent Common Hour presentation on the geothermal system, and are working on cataloging existing campus green energy projects.

Engineering Science majors Brandon Kip, Dominique Arno and Anthony Sweet and Liberal Arts in Science major M. Keith Paciga – the current crop of geothermal interns – recently presented at the statewide New York Coalition for Sustainability in Higher Education (NYCSHE) Conference on the college’s Energy to Lead project.

“It sounded like a path I was interested in: sustainability and clean energy,” said Kip, a first-year student interested in studying electrical engineering at Binghamton University. “I have an interest in advocacy alongside engineering.”

Plans are in the works to present to other campus and community groups, as well as spread the word through articles and promotional materials about the college’s green energy efforts. Students will take part in the Sustainability Advisory Committee and give input into the design and furnishing of the Sustainability Sandbox classroom, among other measures.

Students will also research and develop a Green Revolving Fund, in which savings garnered by the college’s alternative energy efforts will be used to reinvest in new green energy projects.

An additional goal is to create a campus clean energy walking tour covering not only the geothermal system, but the college’s energy-generating wind turbine, solar panels and other efforts, such as the changeover to energy-efficient LED lights and the Natural Science Center’s LEED green building certification.

Lofthouse is also currently developing a class in Clean Energy Systems Design that will teach students how the campus’ energy systems function, and encourage them to work with the campus community to put together project proposals focused on green energy and energy conservation.

Arno is in the pilot program for the new course and jumped at the opportunity to become a student intern. A second-year student looking to major in civil engineering at Clarkson University, she is ultimately interested in designing buildings and energy systems. Outside of class, she also interns with the Engineering Division in Broome County’s Public Works Department, where she is completing an energy audit.

“It all fell in together,” she said of her many opportunities.

Her fellow seniors on the geothermal project, Sweet and Paciga, are looking to study engineering at Clarkson and geophysics and Binghamton University, respectively.

Kip and Arno appreciated the opportunity to present at the statewide conference. Not only did it give them the opportunity to receive notice for their research, they also had a chance to network with other colleges and officials throughout the state, they said.

Students interested in the geothermal internship program should contact Professor Lofthouse at lofthouserw@sunybroome.edu. A 30-hour commit per semester is required, and interns are eligible to receive a $250 stipend. The program isn’t limited to a particular major, and students from across campus are encouraged to apply.