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Geothermal helping Notre Dame meet 2050 emissions goal

A geothermal installation underway in Notre Dame's Joyce Athletic Center parking lot as seen in July 2023.
Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame
A geothermal installation underway in Notre Dame's Joyce Athletic Center parking lot as seen in July 2023.

The COP28 climate talks recently ended in Dubai, but here in Michiana, the area’s biggest employer, the University of Notre Dame, pushes on with its efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

Notre Dame, like the city of South Bend and many other entities, has set a goal of becoming carbon-neutral by the year 2050. A major part of getting there is transitioning from their coal-burning power plant — they transitioned to natural gas in 2019 — to a renewable energy mix of solar, hydro and a third, less common resource, geothermal.

Geothermal transfers energy from the cooling and heating of groundwater in a continuous loop system.

The university in 2019 first dug a field under the parking lot south of the stadium with an operating plant in the lower level of the Walsh architecture building. Next came a field on the northeast area of campus.

Now the university is planning to build a third geothermal plant to help power the southeast part of campus, with a field dug south of the Joyce Athletic Center. They envision one, maybe two more fields to serve the northwest and west parts of campus in the future.

Overseeing it all is Paul Kempf, Notre Dame’s assistant vice-president of utilities and maintenance. He says the university has reduced its carbon emissions by 47 percent since 2005, and it’s likely not done finding new ideas.

"We're also waiting to see what technology brings us," Kempf says. "2050 is 26 years away and we've made a lot of progress but there's still a ways to go."

Parrott, a longtime public radio fan, comes to WVPE with about 25 years of journalism experience at newspapers in Indiana and Michigan, including 13 years at The South Bend Tribune. He and Kristi live in Granger and have two children currently attending Indiana University in Bloomington. In his free time he enjoys fixing up their home, following his favorite college and professional sports teams, and watching TV (yes that's an acceptable hobby).