Faculty, students, staff study Iceland's geothermal energy

Due to Iceland’s volcanoes and location on a rift between continental plates, geothermal energy is key to meeting that nation’s heat and electricity needs, accounting for 26 percent of energy production and 85 percent of heat and hot water on the Nordic island, population 330,000.

Last month, a team of Cornell staff, graduate students and faculty members attended workshops in and around Reykjavik to learn more about geothermal resources and science in collaboration with Icelandic energy leaders. Last year, Iceland President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson visited campus to give a lecture and discuss geothermal research.

Provost Michael Kotlikoff, College of Engineering Dean Lance Collins, Vice President for Infrastructure, Properties and Planning Kyu Whang and others from Cornell, including engineers, toured geothermal power and combined heat and power plants in southwest Iceland. Afterward, Ambassador Robert Cushman Barber hosted a reception at the U.S. Embassy that included leadership from Icelandic energy and higher education sectors.

An additional tour was held at the Svartsengi Combined Heat and Power Plant, home to the famed “Blue Lagoon,” where the group was joined by Minister of Industry and Innovation Ragnheiður Elín Árnadótti. The Cornellians also visited the Keilir Institute of Technology, which is affiliated with the University of Iceland, and the Kalka Incinerator, where the Cornell team consulted with colleagues on operational protocols.

Lanny Joyce, director of utilities and energy management, said of the trip: “The visits to the geothermal plants and district heating systems were truly inspirational. Collaboration between Iceland and Cornell represents a unique opportunity to advance science and application of geothermal energy and its use for direct heating in the United States to dramatically reduce our use of fossil fuels and their resultant climate impacts.”

Six Cornell faculty members visited the Geothermal Resource Park and the Innovation Center Iceland, where Albert Albertsson, chairman of the Iceland Geothermal Cluster Initiative, shared his vision of creating a society without waste, and Cornell faculty, graduate students and staff – along with industry experts, scientists and researchers – presented on several topics, including energy utilization and systems integration.

Katherine McComas, professor of communication, said of the workshop, “The trip provided a great opportunity to share knowledge and explore areas for future research collaboration between the U.S. and Iceland.”

Susan Riley is deputy director of community relations.

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Melissa Osgood