US Department of Energy awards UND researchers $3.5 million

UND research to facilitate development of North Dakota geothermal resources

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently awarded a total of $3,467,728 in two grants to several University of North Dakota (UND) scientists as part of its ongoing geothermal energy development program. The grants to UND will be used to explore electric power generation from geothermal resources in the western part of the state.

Pursuing new frontiers

“Pursuing new frontiers in energy research is one of our strategic priorities at UND Engineering,” said Hesham El-Rewini, professor and dean, UND School of Engineering and Mines, home to the three recipients. “These two awards from DOE recognize the quality of the research conducted by our faculty and students. We are determined to continue to explore energy technologies that are economically competitive, reliable, sustainable, and environmentally acceptable.”

The UND School of Engineering and Mines researchers who received the grants—William Gosnold, Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor and chair, Geology and Geological Engineering and principal investigator; Mike Mann, professor and chair, Chemical Engineering, co-principal investigator; and Hossein Salehfar, professor and vice chair, Electrical Engineering, co-principal investigator—are all well-known as researchers in the broad area of alternative energy.

Presenting a remarkable opportunity

“This is a remarkable opportunity for the state of NorthDakota to lead in developing a sustainable, environmentally sound, domestic energy resource,” said Gosnold, one of the three researchers on the UND geothermal team who will share the grants. “The awards are the result of an outstanding team effort involving the petroleum industry, entrepreneurs, state and federal agencies, and the University of North Dakota.  Lorraine Manz (North Dakota Geological Survey) and Rich LeFever, associate professor of Geology and Geological Engineering, provided critical data for identifying and defining the resource.”

Feds push geothermal energy initiative

DOE’s grants to UND are part of a $338 million program under the Recovery Act to support the exploration and development of new geothermal fields and research into advanced geothermal technologies.  These grants will support 123 projects in 39 states, with recipients including private industry, academic institutions, tribal entities, local governments, and DOE’s National Laboratories.  The grants will be matched more than one-for-one with an additional $353 million in private and non-Federal cost-share funds.

“The United States is blessed with vast geothermal energy resources, which hold enormous potential to heat our homes and power our economy,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who was a professor of physics and molecular and cellular biology at the University of California, Berkeley, when President Obama selected him to run DOE.  “These investments in America’s technological innovation will allow us to capture more of this clean, carbon free energy at a lower cost than ever before.  We will create thousands of jobs, boost our economy and help to jumpstart the geothermal industry across the United States.”

These grants are directed towards identifying and developing new geothermal fields and reducing the upfront risk associated with geothermal development through innovative exploration and drilling projects and data development and collection. In addition, the grants will support the deployment and creative financing approaches for ground source heat pump demonstration projects across the country.

Jobs, jobs, and more jobs

Collectively, according to a DoE announcement about the geothermal grant program, these projects will represent a dramatic expansion of the U.S. geothermal industry and will create or save thousands of jobs in drilling, exploration, construction, and operation of geothermal power facilities and manufacturing of ground source heat pump equipment.

UND explores, develops North Dakota geothermal energy

The grants to UND are part of the project segment titled “Coproduced, Geopressured, and Low Temperature Projects” and include 11 projects selected for the development of new low-temperature geothermal fields, a vast but currently untapped set of geothermal resources.  This includes geothermal heat found in the hundreds of thousands of oil and gas wells around the U.S., where up to ten barrels of hot water are produced for every barrel of oil.

UND partners with energy business

UND, Encore Acquisition, Berrendo Geothermal, and the North Dakota Geological Survey (NDGS) have formed a multi-disciplinary team with a primary objective of demonstrating the technologic and economic feasibility of generating electricity from low-temperature geothermal water (water below the boiling point) using binary, organic Rankine cycle (ORC) technology with air as the condensing medium.  The team of university and industry engineers, scientists, and project developers will evaluate the power capacity, efficiency, and economics of five commercially available ORC engines in collaboration with the equipment manufacturers.  A similar partnership has been formed with UND, NDGS, Berrendo Geothermal, and Continental Resources Inc.

A geothermal ORC system will be installed at an oil field operated by Encore Acquisition in western North Dakota where geothermal fluids occur in sedimentary formations at depths of 10,000 feet. Another geothermal ORC system will be set up in an oilfield operated by Continental Resources Inc., also in western North Dakota. These power plants will be operated and monitored for two years to develop engineering and economic models for geothermal ORC energy production.  The data and knowledge acquired during the research phase will be used to facilitate the installation of similar geothermal ORC systems in other oil and gas settings.


Will Gosnold, professor and chair
Geology and Geological Engineering

Mike Mann, professor and chair
Chemical Engineering

Hossein Salehfar, professor
Electrical Engineering

Juan Miguel Pedraza
Office of University Relations
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