Kettering University Receives $50,000 from Ford Fund for Geothermal Research at Urban Farm in Flint, Mich.

Kettering University stepped up to the Ford Motor Company Fund’s 2010 Ford College Community Challenge (Ford C3) and has won a $50,000 grant to perform an energy audit and develop a geothermal system for an urban gardening greenhouse project.

Kettering Professor Matthew Sanders and his senior Industrial Engineering capstone class worked with Harvesting Earth Educational Farms to offer a practical and cost effective method for using renewable energy resources in the farm’s greenhouse, which is located in urban Flint.

The grant from the Ford Fund will provide solar panels and a geothermal kit to extend the greenhouse’s growing season for a low-capital investment, easy installation and an expansion of facilities, Sanders said. A geothermal heat pump system is a highly efficient technology that utilizes the relatively constant temperature of the earth to heat liquid that is then pumped into pipes in the greenhouse where the energy is released as heat, he explained. The greenhouse improvement will allow Harvesting Earth to grow vegetables, like tomatoes, potatoes, onions and greens, year round for sale at Flint’s Farmer’s Market.

Started in 2008, the Ford College Community Challenge (Ford C3) is a national challenge grant competition that recognizes colleges and universities that utilize a school’s resources to address a community need. The theme for this year’s proposal is – Building Sustainable Communities – using alternative energy in a unique way. Unlike many traditional college grant programs, Ford C3 requires colleges to create project proposals that have significant student input, involvement and leadership from beginning to end.

“Winning proposals have a distinctive student perspective on what it means to have a sustainable community,” said Mike Schmidt, director of Education and Community Development at Ford Motor Company Fund. “Each year, we select five winning proposals to receive this one-time award. We like the Kettering proposal since it involved collaboration between university and community to extend the growing season of an important community greenhouse, and we hope lessons learned here can be used elsewhere.”

Sanders said long-term objectives for this project include providing a source of sustainable employment to residents in a depressed neighborhood and developing learning materials for future classroom training. He noted that developed learning materials can assist the local government and other agencies to better understand how solar/geothermal energy can be used in all new buildings and/or large renovation projects in order to reduce grid-based energy purchases.