“Geothermal Is the Future”—University of Oklahoma Collegiate Competition Champions Host Geothermal Community Event

This blog post was shared with us by NREL.

Eight graduate students wearing matching University of Oklahoma shirts pose with an NREL representative and the first-place certificate on stage.

The Sooners Geothermal Team, first-place winners of the U.S. Department of Energy 2022 Geothermal Collegiate Competition, pose with competition organizer Caity Smith during their community event.

Students from a school of petroleum and geological engineering may not be obvious choices for a $10k geothermal prize—but in winning this year’s U.S. Department of Energy Geothermal Collegiate Competition, the University of Oklahoma team proved that oil and gas industry knowledge can transfer to geothermal energy development.

Geothermal is the future,” said competition participant Cesar Vivas at a geothermal community event hosted by the winning team. “It is the only renewable that can be a baseload source of power and is not limited by seasonal factors. You can develop geothermal energy anywhere, so I recommend anyone to apply to this competition.”

The Sooners Geothermal Team from the University of Oklahoma (OU) took first place for designing a system repurposing six abandoned oil and gas wells in Shawnee, Oklahoma, to provide clean, renewable geothermal energy for more than 730,449 square feet of educational and municipal buildings, including sites within the Absentee Shawnee Tribe and Potawatomi Nation jurisdiction.

By using previously drilled, currently unproductive oil and gas wells, the team showed how a creative design could reduce drilling costs to feasibly power local schools, religious centers, and government buildings using geothermal energy.

Student holds a framed certificate.

Alex Cedola shows off the Sooners Geothermal Team’s first-place certificate.

As part of the competition, the first-place team from the Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy received funding to host a community event sharing their project and the benefits of geothermal. The team’s event was held on September 2, 2022, in the historic Molly Shi Boren Ballroom at the Oklahoma Memorial Union, where the team shared their passion for this project and the potential of geothermal energy.

“I just took a course here on geothermal, but the amount of knowledge that we acquired by doing the project was so much more than a course—it is a ‘hands in’ type of opportunity,” said Karelia La Marca, the team’s geophysicist.

: Student speaks at a podium.

Karelia La Marca speaks about the team’s geothermal project.

As she enters the final year of her doctoral studies at OU, La Marca shared that her studies of geothermal are not over just because the competition has ended.

“The cool thing is that I got so interested in geothermal energy from this competition, and how we can transfer oil and gas skills, that my third and final doctoral project is going to be based on geothermal,” said La Marca.

Student speaks at a podium with three other teammates waiting behind him.

Yuxing Wu speaks during the event, with Cesar Vivas, Karelia La Marca, and Esteban Ugarte behind.

Yuxing Wu, a postdoctoral researcher at OU responsible for modeling and economic development for the competition project, has also found inspiration through the competition.

Next step, we want to let more people know we have this project, collect some funding, and then we want to make it real—not just on paper,” Wu said.

Eight students pose in front of a Geothermal Collegiate Competition banner while holding the winning certificate.

Yuxing Wu, Chinedu Nwosu, Alex Cedola, Cesar Vivas, Camila Castillo, Karelia La Marca, Esteban Ugarte, Daniel Tetteh, and Abdelmjeed Mohamed (not pictured) were the winners of the 2022 U.S. Department of Energy Geothermal Collegiate Competition.

So how did the team react when they learned they won this year’s competition and $10,000?

“We were very proud of all the work we put into it, but we were all kind of in shock when we heard we won,” Cedola said. “We freaked out, started texting and calling each other, and our advisors and teachers found out. It was thrilling.”

The next Geothermal Collegiate Competition opens for registration—and a shot at thousands in prize funding—in November 2022. Competition deliverables will be due in spring 2023. Keep an eye on the Geothermal Collegiate Competition website for more information.

Photos courtesy of The University of Oklahoma.

October 20, 2022
Dozens of people fill round tables in a ballroom and listen to a presentation from four students.

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