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Tunnels under MSU campus help meet university's energy needs

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Posted at 1:33 PM, Oct 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-28 16:41:04-04

Just feet underneath the bricks that make up Montana State University is a hidden network of tunnels that stretch for miles.

A little more than two dozen people gathered outside of the Heating Plant on the MSU campus to uncover the secrets that lay underneath the surface of campus. Leading one of the groups was Duke Elliott, a resource conservation specialist at MSU.

Elliott notes that one of his favorite parts of taking people down into the tunnels is their reaction and awe. Students interested in conservation and environmental engineering tour the tunnels as well and enjoy seeing the magnitude of efficiency through the network of pipes.

“We’re finding many new uses for the tunnels, such as our energy districts, as a way that we can move energy between buildings,” Elliott said.

At the moment, the tunnel is about two miles long and will grow with the campus to meet the growing need for energy, water, and efficiency. Among the many systems that are hidden underground are three geothermal fields.

These fields can act as a battery, giving and receiving heat from the buildings they serve. It’s estimated that the largest geothermal field will save 1,000,000 gallons of carbon from emitting into the air.

“This wonderful infrastructure that we have underneath MSU—I love showing people MSU, and I love showing people the hidden parts of MSU and aspects of our energy and systems,” Elliott said.

Tours are generally given to staff and students of MSU as a way to show the past, present, and future of the university's energy efficiency.