The Sooners Geothermal Team from the Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy at the University of Oklahoma won first place in a national collegiate competition organized by the U.S. Department of Energy. The OU team designed and proposed a system to repurpose six abandoned oil and gas wells in Shawnee, Oklahoma to provide clean, renewable geothermal energy for more than 730,449 square feet of educational and municipal buildings, including sites within the Absentee Shawnee Tribe and Potawatomi Nation jurisdiction.
Geothermal energy in the U.S. has historically been relegated to areas of the country with the hottest geothermal activity, states like California, Nevada, Hawaii and Utah, explained Sooner Geothermal Team members Alex Cedola and Cesar Vivas Munar. Oklahoma, they say, has a unique advantage in using geothermal energy.
“We have an abundance of retired oil assets near populated areas. Because of that, we can compensate for this region’s lower geothermal temperatures with close proximity to end users,” said Vivas Munar.
“Geothermal energy in Oklahoma is a win for everyone,” said Cedola. “It is a clean and abundant source of power. It gives new life to retired oil assets. The cost is reduced because we’re not drilling new wells.”
The Sooners Geothermal Team is comprised of nine graduate students and is led by Saeed Salehi, an associate professor in the Mewbourne School of Petroleum and Geological Engineering. In addition to Cedola and Vivas Munar are Camila Castillo, Karelia La Merca, Abdelmjeed Mohamed, Chinedu Nwosu, Daniel Tetteh, Esteban Ugarte and Yuxing Wu.
A goal of the Geothermal Collegiate Competition is to inspire students to consider geothermal career opportunities, learn industry-relevant skills, and to connect students with their communities. As part of the competition, students assumed the role of project developers, working with communities across the U.S. to identify local energy challenges and explore geothermal energy solutions. In addition to technical research, teams conducted an economic feasibility analysis, crafted a strategy for local stakeholder engagement, and created geothermal education modules in partnership with local schools.
The Sooners Geothermal Team students will share a $10,000 prize and will receive an additional $10,000 University Support prize for planning and implementing stakeholder engagement events with the communities involved in the project.
Director of the Mewbourne School of Petroleum and Geological Engineering Runar Nygaard said, “The students, under the supervision of Dr. Salehi, have worked hard for this victory and we cannot be prouder of their accomplishment. The Mewbourne School is known for our innovations in geothermal energy. With the upcoming launch of our GeoEnergy Engineering bachelor’s degree, competitions like these only strengthen the opportunities for OU students to prepare to lead in the energy transition.”
The idea of converting retired oil well assets into geothermal wells is also being applied through a separate research endeavor led by Salehi. In that project, geothermal energy is being explored as a source to heat two schools in Tuttle, Oklahoma.