Minnesota geothermal startup taps into shallower heat source

Centered author Katie Pyzyk is on vacation. Today’s edition features reporting by Frank Jossi and was compiled by Dan Haugen.

A Twin Cities startup company says its heat exchange technology can shrink the cost and footprint of geothermal heating and cooling systems. More on Darcy Solutions’ potential breakthrough after a couple of cleantech headlines…

Today’s headlines:

💰 INVESTING: A new fund is channeling philanthropic dollars into early-stage cleantech companies based on their potential to produce high-impact technology that reduces carbon emissions, Greentech Media reports. The Prime Impact Fund recently closed a $50 million raise and has made investments in eight companies.

🚘 ELECTRIC VEHICLES: Tesla, General Motors, and one of China’s biggest battery companies all say they want to make an electric car battery that can last a million miles, “a development that scrambles the expectations of the automobile,” E&E News reports.

🤝  PARTNERSHIP: Columbus-based Cummins has launched a joint venture with NPROXX, a hydrogen storage and transportation company, to develop hydrogen and compressed natural gas storage products for on-highway and rail applications. The company’s CEO said the solutions will help move toward a decarbonized future.

And now, let’s drill down into Darcy Solutions’ new geothermal tech…

THE CHALLENGE: Geothermal is a proven technology for reducing emissions from building heating and cooling, but it comes with large upfront costs and can be difficult to retrofit into existing buildings, especially in denser cities. Cheap natural gas and the loss of federal tax credits have made the systems a tougher sell.

THE INNOVATION: Conventional geothermal can require dozens of boreholes as deep as 250 feet or more to tap into naturally occurring underground heat, which is then circulated through a closed-loop system. Darcy Solutions’ approach, developed at the University of Minnesota, uses a handful of simple wells to instead tap the heat of aquifers located 30 to 150 feet deep below the surface.

“One of our goals was to be cheaper than traditional geothermal,” the company’s chief technology officer, Jimmy Randolph, said. “A traditional geothermal tends to have a payback of 10 to 15 years compared to natural gas and air conditioner systems.”

The contractor installs a closed-loop U-line that circulates fluid through heat exchangers submerged in groundwater. The line then runs to heat pumps that feed into building heating and cooling systems. The setup cost less to buy and operate than conventional geothermal, cutting payback time to around five years, Randolph said.

THE BACKSTORY: Randolph co-invented the approach after years in the geothermal industry. The former University of Minnesota research associate previously served as CTO of another startup, TerraCOH, Inc., which developed a system that stored carbon underground for later use for power production.

THE OPPORTUNITY: CEO and co-founder Brian Larson sees opportunity for retrofits in urban neighborhoods without the amount of land required for ground-based geothermal. Much of the Midwest and sections of the East Coast have high water tables that make the regions good prospects.

WHAT’S NEXT: Darcy Solutions has begun pitching the product to commercial and industrial businesses in the Twin Cities. A handful of clients have signed up for the system, among them a St. Paul union hall, a north Minneapolis jobs training center and a North Dakota business.

You can read more about the company at the Energy News Network.

Help us cover the Midwest cleantech economy! Send news tips, press releases, and feedback to katie@centered.tech or connect on Twitter @centereddottech.

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