Tapping into Earth's Natural Heat Source

You are here

John Lund

Bachelor of Science, PhD
Civil Engineering

A three-decade career promoting the development of geothermal energy has led John W. Lund (CivEngr '58, PhD '67) around the world and back to his own front yard.

Considered a leading authority on geothermal energy use, Lund is professor emeritus of civil engineering and co-founder and director of the Geo-Heat Center at the Oregon Institute of Technology (OIT) in Klamath Falls, Oregon, an area rich in geothermal resources. The Geo-Heat Center is an international resource for geothermal development providing technical assistance, training, and information for geothermal projects locally and globally.

OIT has long used heat from underground reservoirs to heat classrooms, dorms, and the swimming pool, and to melt snow and ice off sidewalks. A nearly mile-deep geothermal well is being drilled on campus to tap into a hotter source of geo-thermal energy than is available from shallower wells with the goal of generating all of the campus's own electricity.

"If this is successful, the well will produce enough 300-degree water to generate 1.5 to 3 megawatts of electricity, making OIT the first campus in the world to receive all of its energy from a geothermal resource directly under campus," says Lund, former dean of Engineering and Industrial Technologies and former chair of the Civil Engineering Department.

The geothermal system is putting OIT and Lund's Geo-Heat Center at the epicenter of a growing emphasis on geo-thermal as a renewable energy source. The key to wider geothermal use is greater public awareness and technical supportthe two areas where the Geo-Heat Center is most active, according to Lund.

Geothermal power is generated in more than 20 countries around the world, from Iceland and Europe to Russia and China, as well as the United States. A study conducted by the Colorado Geological Society discovered that Colorado has the nation's fourth-largest geothermal resource.

Wells drilled into geothermal reservoirs bring hot water to the surface to directly heat buildings or to generate electricity in power plants. Geothermal energy also can be harnessed in relatively simple pumping units.

Low-temperature geothermal heat pumps (GHP) have been the fastest growing use of geothermal energy over the past decade, according to Lund. GHPs use the constant temperature of the Earth itself (in shallow depths from about 20 to 300 feet, the Earth's surface maintains a constant temperature between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit) as the exchange medium for winter heating or summer cooling.

While hydrothermal resources are available only in certain areas, a geothermal heat pump can work anywhere in the world for both space heating and cooling, and for industrial and home use.

"Every time oil prices go up, we get a lot of calls," he says. "We're the leaders in providing technical assistance with heat pump technology. Now that geothermal power can be generated at lower temperatures, we're getting even more calls."

Lund's geothermal interest developed after traveling through Iceland, New Zealand, Japan, Philippines, Italy, China, and Central Europe where geothermal is more extensively used as an energy source. Not only has Lund championed the use of geothermal resources around the globe for 34 years, but he also heats his home and hot tub using 190-degree water from a 400-foot well drilled in his Klamath Falls front yard. His total monthly heating bill is $10.

"If you didn't know it was there, you'd never know there is a well in my front yard," Lund says. "You'd have to lift up the metal plate to see it. Unlike solar and wind power generators, geothermal power systems are invisible in the finished design of a building and are available 24/7. They're not visible like solar panels and wind turbines."

Lund has received numerous awards recognizing his contributions for promoting geothermal energy and was the first American to receive the Pactricius Medal from the German Geothermal Association. He was invited to teach at the geothermal schools in New Zealand and Iceland, the two preeminent geothermal training schools in the world. Lund is past-president of the Geothermal Resources Council and the International Geothermal Association and he is helping organize the world geothermal congress to be held in Indonesia in 2010.

Lund says that the fundamental education he received at CU has served him well as the use of geothermal energy has evolved and is becoming more prevalent. "My civil engineering education at CU was excellent, but I had to take a course in thermal dynamics and I hated it," jokes Lund. "At the time, I couldn't see how I would ever use the information, but now I use it all the time. The beauty of having a good solid engineering education is that it prepares you for anything, and really, it's good to be prepared for anything. Look where it's taken me."

Important Announcements

CUEngineering:  A publication for alumni and friends. Read the 2016 edition of CUEngineering magazine here.

University of Colorado Boulder
© Regents of the University of Colorado
PrivacyLegal & Trademarks
College of Engineering & Applied Science
Contact Us