WisBusiness: Racine firm hopes to retire rapidly rising winter heating bills

By C.J. Stanford

RACINE – A new company called 2DX2 is using the natural warmth of the earth to supply heating and cooling energy to homes free from monthly charges.

Sheila Milbrath is one of the founding partners of 2DX2, a geothermal energy solution to rising energy costs. Milbrath, a native of Howards Grove in eastern Wisconsin, studied agri-business at UW-Platteville and is working on a masters’ degree at the UW-Milwaukee. Milbrath’s original drive was to decrease the cost of low-income housing in Wisconsin.

“Heat is not affordable during Wisconsin winters due to the extreme temperatures we see,” said Milbrath, a finalist in the 2008 Governor’s Business Plan Contest.

With the continued rise of heat energy costs, some families’ quality of life decreases during winter and they must shut off some appliances in order to pay monthly bills.

The earth is at a constant temperature year-round eight feet below the surface. This geothermal energy is around 50 degrees in Wisconsin and can be used to heat and cool homes if harnessed. Small holes, the size of baseballs, need to be drilled into the earth and piping follows upwards of 100 feet into the ground.

The up-front cost of the system is a $1,000 for materials such as copper and $15 per foot for drilling. A coolant in the form of a combination of liquid and gas or a glycol and water solution fills copper tubing and transfers the heat to the surface and into the consumer’s home. Until recently, the glycol and water solution was the preferred method due to its accessibility and ease of use but it contains many disadvantages.

This technology was first corporately used 20 years ago but has not been advanced technologically until just recently. 2DX2 was incorporated in 2003 and uses a liquid to attract heat with the aid of copper tubing. The liquid vaporizes into a gas and carries the heat energy to the earth’s surface and into the consumer’s home.

Once in the home, a compressor compresses the vapor molecules and intensifies the heat to a more usable temperature. Previous methods use PVC piping and are 20 to 50 percent less efficient due to the plastic being less conductive and also requires an electric pump to move the glycol and water solution to the surface.

Homes do not need to be outfitted with new equipment in order to utilize this energy. Forced air, electric heaters, or duct work are able to use geothermal energy. Only a few small holes need to be drilled into the earth’s surface, leaving only a small footprint.

The Division of Water Quality at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources controls permits for well drilling and geothermal drilling in order to ensure drinking water remains unharmed. Currently every consumer would have to be approved in order to install geothermal equipment on their property.

2DX2 is currently working with the WDNR and Gateway Technical College in Kenosha to create a training course for potential drillers to be certified. That would alleviate the need for every consumer to be approved, only the driller. If the drilling process is not done correctly, openings in the piping due to improper grouting could expose the liquid inside to ground water and contaminate it.

2DX2 wants to create a product that lessens the dependency on non-renewable energy like fossil fuels. Their company mission statement declares that “2DX2 will utilize ground source heat pumps to make more efficient use of resources than traditional heating and cooling systems. This will help reduce society’s dependency on the world’s diminishing supply of fossil fuels. In this way, we envision the efficient use of energy resources, a healthy environment, reduction of emissions that contribute to global warming, and a strong economy.”

The heat created by the earth’s core is enough to fully heat most homes throughout winter. 2DX2 is trying to tap into that abundant and inexhaustible resource.

C.J. Stanford is a Life Sciences Communications Major at the University of Wisconsin-Madison