Geotechnical design of energy foundations

Project Leader: Ian Johnston
Staff: Guillermo Narsilio, Lu Aye
Student: Stuart Colls, Amir Valizadeh Kivi
Sponsors: Melbourne Energy Institute, Geotechnical Engineering Pty Ltd, Direct Energy, Golder Associates Pty Ltd, Supaflow, PC&S UoM, Melbourne University Sport
Primary Contact: Ian Johnston (
Keywords: civil infrastructure; energy efficiency; geotechnical engineering; renewable energy; sustainable cities
Disciplines: Infrastructure Engineering
Domains: Optimisation of resources and infrastructure

Energy foundations consist of normal structural foundations such as footings, slabs, basement rafts, retaining walls and piles into which pipes are incorporated to transmit a fluid (often water) throughout the foundation elements. Using the fluid as the transfer medium, the substantial mass of the foundations and the ground can provide a heat reservoir for heating a building in winter or a heat sink for cooling in summer. A heat pump at the ground surface links the primary circuit in the ground with the secondary heating/cooling circuit in the building. Energy foundations are a rapidly developing technology for the provision of sustainable, renewable and economic base load heating and cooling for buildings. They can provide a very effective means of reducing a significant proportion of a building's carbon footprint and can do so relatively maintenance free over a long period of time. Recent studies suggest that about 80% of the cost of heating and cooling can be provided by energy foundations for a very modest capital outlay.

Through numerical modelling and field monitoring, this new project is aimed at developing guidelines for the design of various forms of energy foundations through the consideration of variables such as ground characteristics, foundation type, shape and extent, and building requirements for Australian conditions.

Schematic representation of a vertical Ground Source Heat Pump system for cooling and heating buildinds (not to scale).
Installation of vertical GHEs at the University of Melbourne Geothermal Testing Facility.