Zayo conducts joint dark fiber project with U.S. National Laboratories and Rice University

Dec. 11, 2023
Research to uncover sustainable energy sources in California’s Imperial Valley.

By Gina Rullo

Zayo has completed the Imperial Valley Dark Fiber Project--a collaborative research effort between Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Rice University. This project is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to explore the efficacy of leveraging telecommunications fiber to map and monitor geothermal resources that could enable a low-carbon energy future.

Berkeley Lab and the DOE have been exploring geothermal energy as a renewable alternative to fossil fuels for decades. Clean energy sources like geothermal energy are necessary for producing sustainable energy, reducing emissions, and addressing climate change. However, these resources are often hidden — meaning there is no resource surface expression — and mapping these geothermal resources was historically labor-intensive and usually cost-prohibitive.

"Network infrastructure is at the heart of innovation, and that couldn't be truer than it is with this project," Steve Smith, CEO of Zayo, said. "We are proud to have played a role in advancing the discovery and development of clean energy sources, in keeping with our longstanding commitment to drive a sustainable future. We hope the great work of the Berkeley Lab and Rice University team will inspire new conversations about how fiber infrastructure can be leveraged in new ways to positively impact our future - some that we can only imagine today."

New dark fiber uses

The Imperial Valley Dark Fiber Project, which kicked off in 2019, sought to develop strategies to better find these resources through seismic sensing via existing telecom dark fiber.

The Berkeley Lab-Rice team, in collaboration with scientists from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Scripps Institution of Oceanography, used Zayo's dark fiber network in the Imperial Valley of California—an area already known to be home to many hidden geothermal resources to test various techniques for mapping geothermal resources. The Imperial Valley is located east of San Diego and west of Yuma, Arizona and near the border of Mexico and the United States.

These methods include Distributed Acoustic Sensing (DAS), a technique that turns Zayo's dark fiber into an array of seismic measurement locations to build a picture of what is underground.

In a conventional seismic experiment, only a few seismic sensors can be deployed in a tiny, targeted area. These sensors often require significant time for sensor deployment and permitting, resulting in using just a few dozen sensors. Using existing dark fiber, however, significantly reduces deployment time and increases the number of sensors to thousands. With dark fiber, researchers have access to tens of kilometers of fiber and can measure every few meters, offering unprecedented, previously cost-prohibitive access.

"Our future as a nation relies on uncovering new ways to fuel our society, and while solar or wind energy alternatives often take the spotlight, the value of geothermal energy production is becoming more apparent," said Dr. Jonathan Ajo-Franklin of Rice University, one of the researchers on the project. "But geothermal research takes an incredible amount of collaboration. Zayo's fiber infrastructure and expertise significantly benefited our team's research. This isn't a typical telecom project; it requires equipment with capabilities other projects do not have and technical guidance to support our team in making decisions relevant to deploying the fiber."

The Berkeley Lab-Rice team has built detailed subsurface maps by fusing dark fiber with traditional seismic sensors. Researchers have also leveraged Zayo's dark fiber to test additional applications, including earthquake detection. Findings from the project were published in numerous scholarly articles.

Focus on sustainability

Sustainability has been a big focus for Zayo.

In April, the provider released its 2022 Sustainability at Zayo Report. The report highlights Zayo’s effort to align its values with its business practices and progress made toward its environmental, social, and government (ESG) milestones.

Zayo is taking the climate change threat seriously and is investing in efforts to address the issue. In 2022, Zayo committed to Science Based Target Initiative (SBTi) by setting ambitious science-based emissions reduction targets to support environmentally sustainable growth. Through this commitment, Zayo developed a plan to achieve net zero emissions by 2030.

Additionally, Zayo has moved to offset its overall carbon emissions and engaging its supply chain partners to reduce their emissions.

“The ESG practices we outline in this report are not only a fundamental component of who Zayo is as a company, but are also vital for Zayo to reach its business goals,” said Mike Nold, leader of Zayo’s ESG steering committee and EVP of Corporate Development and Strategy. “This past year, we focused on developing our path to net zero, improving organizational diversity, and expanding broadband to all."

Gina Rullo is a freelance writer. 

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