Catholic University of Maule commits to Geothermal

Tuesday, 13 de June


The building “Technological Science Park” of the Catholic University of Maule (UCM) houses laboratories of different schools, on a surface is 1,000 m2. Since 2013, the air conditioning of this building has been operated with low enthalpy geothermal energy, with vertical heat exchangers, which was the initiative of Dr. David Zamora, who told us how this example of local use of the geothermal.


(CEGA, 1st June) The earthquake of 27th February 2010 caused significant damage to the buildings of the UCM, located in the Region of Maule, where was the epicenter of the earthquake. Many of the samples being analyzed in the laboratories were lost as a result of the earthquake, impacting the development of scientific investigations that were being carried out. However, this catastrophe provided an opportunity to incorporate the use of geothermal energy as clean energy in university.

In 2010 the UCM decided to construct a new building that would bring together all the laboratories: the Technological Science Park. The challenge was to have a safe place against earthquakes (using basal insulators) and also with high standards of air conditioning that would allow the protection of the samples that would be worked in place and the comfort of the researchers and students. According with this, the academic of the Faculty of Engineering Sciences Dr. David Zamora, presented a project to the Vice-rector of the University to incorporate the direct use of geothermal for the air conditioning of the new building. “The project was accepted by the authorities of that time and was managed with resources from the university. We was looking for provide a comfortable space – in terms of temperature – for the researchers work”

For Dr. Zamora this project was a commitment of the UCM, although it was known that the cost of investment was higher – mainly in the first phase – but the characteristics of the geothermal met the high requirements that were sought. “The university has to be a window for the world, so if universities do not take risks, who will take them? The university accepted the bet mainly to make known the technology and to be able to investigate on the geothermal in situ “adds the professor of the UCM.


“The investment was more expensive than if you were betting on another type of energy, but whoever was in charge of making the decision wanted to have a project within the university to promote these new technologies. This authority of the UCM considered that the university has to be one of the calls to fulfill that mission” emphasized the researcher who also is Coordinator of the Master in Sustainable Construction of the UCM.


The geothermal climate control of the Technological Science Park began operating in 2013 and to date has worked successfully. The implementation was made gradually and the Zamora experience qualifies it as “sweet and bitter” since “there have been faults in some indoor air distribution equipment, which in fact did not meet expectations and failed, not geothermal but the internal systems of the building, but as it is an air conditioning system, this has complicated the operation”.


In relation to the dissemination of this initiative, Professor Zamora says that work has been done at the regional level mainly. “They have come to visit the building from the Católica University of Temuco, the University of Chile, the University of Santísima Concepción and I have also been invited to give different talks mainly in the south of the country. Within the University we have a course in the undergraduate and other in Magister who talks about geothermal, but not so focused on this particular prototype that is closed sounding, and the UCM is oriented towards forms of design that allow us to lower costs in a social housing and this is an example of a larger construction”, Zamora says that the Explora-Conicyt programs in the El Maule region have managed several school visits to the building to know how geothermal works.


Regarding the technical characteristics of the building, seismic isolators were incorporated between the ground floor and the first floor, due to the risk of earthquakes in the area of emplacement and there was a low enthalpy geothermal utilization to supply the building with the necessary heat and cooling energy, to give comfort to different users. The energy system used is Low Enthalpy geothermal energy with Closed Vertical Heat Exchangers, this connection to the subsoil is the most environmentally friendly and widely used in developed countries.