FEIT Research Project Database

Energy geo-structures: numerical modelling and field testing

Project Leader: Guillermo Narsilio
Staff: Associate Professor Guillermo Narsilio, Dr Nikolas Makasis
Collaborators: Dr Asal Bidarmaghz (Cambridge University)
Primary Contact: Guillermo Narsilio (Geotechnical Engineering) (narsilio@unimelb.edu.au)
Keywords: energy efficiency; finite element modelling; geotechnical engineering; machine learning
Disciplines: Infrastructure Engineering

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. Their application has become popular in Europe and North America and they are being seen as a viable alternative in Australia. Recent studies in Europe suggest that about 80% of the cost of heating and cooling can be provided by energy foundations for a very modest capital outlay. There are even systems involving water pipes wrapped around tunnels to provide heating and cooling for the overlying buildings.

Through numerical modelling and field monitoring, this 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 (or other) conditions.

Aims and approach

The primary objective of this proposed research study is to develop a set of guide lines for the design of various forms of energy foundations.

The aims of this research are to perform or use full scale field testing of ground heat exchangers and to develop and test new generation computational models for direct geothermal energy systems with vertical and horizontal ground heat exchangers of various configurations, including basements.

Access to field data sets from Australia, UK and Korea through collaborators of the supervisors of this work, coupled with recently developed numerical techniques that truly describe the fundamental coupled physical processes taking place within ground heat exchangers and surrounding ground, have the most potential to achieve these aims.

A unique and comprehensive field data for a variety of Australian geological conditions is being collected by the geothermal group at the University of Melbourne.

In summary, the project will include:

  • Task 1: To compile and update of existing direct geothermal field data
  • Task 2: (help with) Full scale tests on new ground heat exchanger sites, should they become available
  • Task 3: To model ground heat exchangers and to validate/test models with data from Australia and overseas
  • Task 4: To apply the models to assess and optimise thermal performance of GSHP systems in general, and in particular, for Australian conditions. This will naturally lead to a more rational and cost-effective design methodologies.

Expressions of interest from prospective PhD candidates welcome.


  • Bachelor of Civil Engineering in Civil/Geotechnical Engineering (with honours) or closely related discipline.
  • Meet all relevant criteria to gain entry to University of Melbourne PhD program.
  • Expertise in laboratory and/or field testing, or numerical modelling.


  • Track-record of high-quality journal publications.
  • Excellent communication skills in both spoken and written English.

Applicants should complete the short form "Interested in a PhD with us?" found at Associate Professor G. Narsilio's group website.

Further information: http://pmrl.eng.unimelb.edu.au

Instrumented energy piles at Monbulk
A complex FEM geothermal modelling (energy tunnel)