Living Sustainably

Aquaponics | Rain Harvesting | Composting | Other Green Products

Coal-fired boilers will go cold in days as Ball State continues conversion to geothermal

Coal-fired boilers will go cold in days as Ball State continues conversion to geothermal
Nearly 70 years after Ball State University installed its four coal-fired boilers, school employees are shoveling in the last few lumps of coal. In just a few days, the boilers will go cold as the university embraces renewable energy with world’s largest district closed geothermal energy system.
Jim Lowe, director of engineering, construction and operations, will be there to watch the historic event. He’s overseen the $80 million geothermal project — consisting of 3,600 boreholes to the system that heats and cools 47 buildings on campus — since the first hole was drilled in 2009.
“It has been incredible to witness the progress over the last few years,” Lowe says. “I think we’ll realize the full extent of the changeover from consuming about 36,000 tons of coal a year to renewable energy when the two smoke stacks come down in 2015.”
The work to be completed includes finishing the system’s south borehole field, modifications to the South District Energy Station to accommodate the two new 2,500-ton heat-pump chillers, hot and chilled water distribution looping, and modification of the remaining buildings (predominately on the south side of campus) to accept the geothermal connections.
Lowe notes that when the system is complete next year, the shift from fossil fuels to a renewable energy source will reduce the university’s carbon footprint by nearly half while saving $2 million a year in operating costs.
The Earth’s ability to maintain a constant temperature supports the thermodynamic principle for the geothermal system’s operation. A ground source heat pump coupled with a vertical closed loop piping system uses the Earth as either a heat source, when operating in heating mode, or a heat sink, when operating in cooling mode.
Phase 1 was completed in 2012. It consisted of two borehole fields, construction of the North District Energy Station and connecting buildings on the northern part of campus to the new distribution system.
“When costs began to escalate for the installation of a new fossil fuel burning boiler, the university began to evaluate other renewable energy options,” Lowe says. “This led to the decision to convert the campus to a more efficient geothermal-based heating and cooling system.”
Federal and state officials have endorsed Ball State’s foray into renewable energy. The U.S. Department of Energy provided a grant of $5 million under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Indiana General Assembly authorized nearly $45 million in state capital funding for the first phase. In 2013, the Indiana General Assembly authorized a $30 million cash appropriation for the second phase.
The project has caught the attention of universities and communities across the nation. Lowe is sharing information about the university’s new operation with others who want learn how they, too, can benefit from a geothermal system.
“The geothermal project provides research opportunities for faculty, and by creating a sustainable university, we can provide a learning environment for students,” Lowe says. “This project further demonstrates that we practice what we teach.”
Contact information
Jim Lowe may be reached at 765-285-2805 or
Marc Ransford
media relations manager
Ball State University
Muncie, Ind .47306

Electric Vehicles: Designing or Converting?

I ride a electric hybrid bike. I can pedal, cruise electric only, or just use the electric to assist me on hills. I’ve driven electric utility carts, golf carts, and ridden Segway’s. Electric vehicles are fun, cheap to run, and much simpler to fix than their engined counterparts, as well as being very quiet and clean to operate, with little to no chemicals on site like oil, fuel, and emissions.

If you want a electric vehicle, other than buying a expensive commercial version, you can either design one from scratch, or convert an existing one. Conversion looks like the simpler method, but then you get all the design compromises of the original vehicle along with it. Designing from scratch means you get a vehicle that meets your specific need (assuming you were able to resolve what that specific need is).

For designing a vehicle, we use Electric Vehicles: Design and Build Your Own. For anything from a 2 wheel electric bike to a 4 wheel cargo truck or electric speedster, including hybrids, this is the one you want. You learn about suspensions, steering, drivetrain and instrumentation issues. It’s a dated work, but the basics are still applicable, and can easily be updated with today’s technology. A great spot to introduce Arduino microcontrollers.

For converting an existing vehicle to electric, my favorite is Convert It!. I have a ’94 For Ranger that is begging for a conversion.

This book is the leading how-to resource for electric car conversions. It combines Brown’s years of professional automotive experience with down-to-earth language even an automotive beginner can understand. It is not written for the engineer in the laboratory, but for the home mechanic building his own car, and for the average person behind the wheel.

Brown speaks to the reader as if talking to a friend in his garage. Before lifting a wrench, Brown answers the most frequently asked questions about electric cars: how fast will it go, how far will it go, how long will the batteries last, how pollution-free is it really, and many more.

The conversion process itself begins with choosing an appropriate donor chassis, and stripping it of internal combustion components. Here Brown’s experience provide numerous tips and tricks to make the later conversion process easier and more successful. Step by step, Brown leads the reader through the conversion. As each component comes up, Brown gives a little background on the different types available, and the pros and cons of each. He includes tips on layout, design and fabrication at each step, and discusses different approaches for different chassis, such as front wheel drive vs. rear wheel drive. By the end of the book, every part of the conversion process has been discussed. Brown wraps up with a procedure for testing and troubleshooting, and guidelines for normal driving, charging, and maintenance.

The book is salted heavily throughout with photos and diagrams to illustrate its topics, and it includes a very thorough index. CONVERT IT has been chosen by the Department of Energy and by numerous schools across the country as the textbook for high school electric car conversion projects.

Discuss electric vehicle construction and conversion at


What is Spirulina?

Spirulina is a blue-green algae. It is a simple, one-celled form of algae that thrives in warm, alkaline fresh-water bodies. The name “spirulina” is derived from the Latin word for “helix” or “spiral”; denoting the physical configuration of the organism when it forms swirling, microscopic strands.

Spirulina is being developed as the “food of the future” because of its amazing ability to synthesize high-quality concentrated food more efficiently than any other algae. Most notably, Spirulina is 65 to 71 percent complete protein, with all essential amino acids in perfect balance. In comparison, beef is only 22 percent protein.

Spirulina has a photosynthetic conversion rate of 8 to 10 percent, compared to only 3 percent in such land-growing plants as soybeans.

Spirulina also provides high concentrations of many other nutrients – amino acids, chelated minerals, pigmentations, rhamnose sugars (complex natural plant sugars), trace elements, enzymes – that are in an easily assimilable form.

Read more at,, and learn to grow your own at

Build your own photoreactor for growing spirulina and other algae for food or fuel:

A Quantum Leap in Holistic Nutrition with Bio-Algae Concentrates

by Roland Thomas, BSc, ND, of Quantum Leap Wellness


Convert Your Diesel To Run On Used Fryer Oil

We have been converting diesels to run on used fryer oil (different than biodiesel, which requires no conversion) for 15 years. We have posted a few articles giving tips and tricks on collecting and filtering oil, as well as the conversion process. We now use a homemade (DIY) centrifuge to clean the oil. Back articles on the centrifuge can be found at

The veggie diesel documents can be found at


Converting the Diesel Suburban to Veggie

The conversion of our ’96 Diesel Suburban to 100% used vegetable oil (not biodiesel and definitely not diesel secret junk) continues. Over the years, we have worked with a variety of parts, always fine tuning and improving the system. Here are the parts for our conversion:

Coolant heated fuel pickup / tank heater –
Heats the fuel at point of pickup, doesn’t require complete tank heating.

Electric lift pump –
Take the load off your injector pump, mount at veggie tank.

2 Heavy duty, high volume 3 port fuel valves –
The most reliable way to switch from the diesel to the veggie system. Stay away from the problematic Pollak valves.

Coolant Heated Filter –
The diesel and vegetable systems are separate, with their own filters.

Electric Injector pump fuel heater –
On startup, there is cold veggie in the lines up front and in the valves that does not get heated. When switching from diesel to hot veggie, this “slug” of cold veggie hits the injector pump first. The electric IP heater mounted right at the input of the injector pump eliminates this possibility.

PMD relocator kit –
Relocating the fuel computer module from the injector pump is a necessity in this model vehicle. There are two 500 watt transistors that produce quite a bit of heat, and the extra heat from the hot veggie is enough to give it fits.

More detail on past conversions and collecting and filtering vegetable oil can be found at


Getting Started in Renewable Energy

We have put together a series of kits for those wanting to get involved with generating their own clean, renewable energy, and learn how the big systems work. The modules include a small 400 watt wind turbine, a 60 watt solar array, an optional engine driven battery charger with propane conversion, and a inverter for producing 120vac from the sun and wind. Each module is optional, so as little or as much can be ordered at once. The capacity of the modules is flexible, so give us a call if you are interested in a science fair, travel trailer, or a home sized system. These systems can be used where there is no power, or as an emergency backup for a grid dependent home. Complete installation instructions are available.

Steve Spence


Ford F250 7.3 Diesel to Veggie Conversion

Nick and his 2000 F250 Veggie TruckNick arrived Wednesday with his 2000 Ford F250 pickup for a conversion to veggie. We finished Thursday night, and filled Nick up with enough clean veggie for 3000 miles of driving. The truck runs quieter and smoother, and has more power than before. Smells better as well. Read more about using Veggie for fuel at

See pics of Nick’s conversion at’s%202000%20F250%20Veggie%20Conversion/




DIY Generator Finished

Engine Alternator ProjectThe DIY Generator Project is finished. The engine and alternator are assembled, and ready for battery charging. Some improvements still to do:

  • 3 stage charger circuit
  • Propane / methane conversion
  • Garden cart for portability
  • Solar Panel Upgrade
  • Battery Bank / Inverter Upgrade

See more on this project and others at and kits are available at

Special thanks to:

US Carburetion

The Epicenter

Harbor Freight

Ample Power

Bogart Engineering





Free Methane / Propane Generator Conversion eBook

This week we are giving away our Methane/Propane Generator Conversion eBook to every one who buys the Methane Digester Video. Take advantage of this offer to learn how to make biodigested fuel, and how to use it to make free electricity.



Veggie Hatz Generator

We are in the process of converting the Hatz Generator to run veggie oil. On warm days like today (71F), the Hatz will burn veggie with no conversion. As the temps cool below 55F, the oil gets too thick to flow through the stock filter. What is needed initially is a electrically heated filter, as this is a air cooled engine. Our vehicle conversions use coolant heated filters. The next step is a heater for the fuel tank. We are using a 55 gallon drum for the veggie oil, and a stick on heating pad that runs on 120vac. This power comes from the generator itself, which is started on diesel first. We will post pictures and more documentation as the project goes forward. We are on day three of Hatz Veggie Power.