Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Michigan Tech students to present study on feasibility of minewater as geothermal energy for Calumet Dec. 12

By Michele Bourdieu

CALUMET -- A free public presentation exploring the social feasibility of using minewater as a geothermal energy source in Calumet, Michigan, will be held at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013, in the CLK Schools Commons.

The public is warmly invited to a community gathering and presentation of the results of a research project assessing the social and economic feasibility of tapping into mine shafts for geothermal energy in Calumet. The presentation will look at the opportunities and challenges associated with using the legacy of mining in the community as a sustainable and independent energy source. The project is the result of a collaborative effort between Main Street Calumet, Dr. Richelle Winkler and students at Michigan Technological University.

Students in Michigan Tech Prof. Richelle Winkler's 2013 fall semester class on rural community development and research take a GPS reading of the Calumet No. 3 mineshaft (the brick structure) located on the CLK Schools property. Pictured at right is Calumet Village President David Geisler. The playground is in the background. The school currently uses water from the mine to water the football field. (Photo © and courtesy Rahul "Neil" Bose, a student in the class.)

A discussion and social will follow the presentation with coffee and snacks. Free and open to the public. Everyone is welcome!

Winkler said this fall semester her interdisciplinary social sciences class, Rural Community Development: Communities and Research, is made up of five graduate students and three undergraduates, who have been working on this project. They are also collaborating with a Michigan Tech enterprise class on technical aspects of the project. Winkler noted that community members also come to the class and participate in the research process.

"Each year we do a different project with Calumet," Winkler said. "What we want to do is build a long-term relationship with Calumet -- and we've partnered with Main Street Calumet in particular.

Last year the project concerned Main Street Calumet's monthly First Friday events.*

Elmore Reese, Main Street Calumet volunteer, said Main Street Calumet's Economic Restructuring Committee has been looking into the possibility of using minewater as a potential energy source for the town for some time.

"We were very happy and grateful when Michigan Tech professor Dr. Richelle Winkler developed a class that has produced a study on the social feasibility of using minewater as a geothermal energy source in Calumet," Reese said. "I'm eagerly looking forward to the public presentation on Thursday."

Michigan Tech's Keweenaw Research Center at the Houghton County Airport already uses minewater as geothermal energy for both heating and cooling and for some of their work, Winkler added.

Reese noted Main Street Calumet is hopeful that the Keweenaw Research Center system can be adapted for use in Calumet.

The purpose of the presentation and discussion this Thursday is to help people in the community decide whether this is something they would like to do, Winkler explained.

Calumet Village President David Geisler is very excited about the potential for green energy in the community.

"I think if something like that came to fruition -- what a plus for Calumet!" he said. "It's a green source of energy. It's renewable -- zero emissions."

Geisler added the possibility of a geothermal energy source would attract business to the community and would piggy back on what Michigan Tech is already doing with their research.

"It puts us on the map as a community that is innovative and on the leading edge of technology," he added.

Geisler admitted the infrastructure would be expensive, but he believes green energy is something both federal and state governments support so it has a good potential for funding.

"What a terrific thing for this community," he said. "I'd love to see it happen."

Winkler said Calumet has about 37 mine shafts in the local area. The water in them averages 55 degrees F. while most geothermal systems use water that is only 45 degrees. Since water in the Calumet mines is warmer than the norm, it would be more efficient. A heat exchanger sucks heat out of the water and multiplies it, she explained. The water is then piped right back into the mine.

As part of their research, the students did about 15 formal interviews with people in Calumet and studied examples of other locations in the world that are using minewater for geothermal energy. They also did G.I.S. (Geological Information Systems) work to calculate the distance between mine shafts and key buildings in the Calumet community.

The minewater has the potential for geothermal energy use in homes as well as commercial buildings or industries, Winkler noted.

[Update: We just received the following comment on email.]

Carrie Karvakko, a student in Winkler's class who has participated in the project, said the class has been a great learning experience for her.

"I am from the area but was pleasantly surprised with how much I learned and didn't already know," Karvakko noted. "Also, I am a teacher at Houghton High School and found this research to be relevant. I have already included some aspects about Calumet's resources in some of my lesson plans for my U.S. History class. It's great to provide my students with material that comes from the area (close to their hearts) while teaching."

CLK Schools is located at 57070 Mine Street in Calumet. Enter through the west entrance off Red Jacket Road.

For more information about Main Street Calumet, visit their Web site.

* See the May 10, 2013, Michigan Tech News article "Study: Art Strengthens Community Ties in Calumet," by Karina Jousma, about Prof. Winkler's student study of Main Street Calumet's First Friday art tours.

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