Intelligent design: UCI’s new and retrofitted Smart Labs can cut energy use by half

Feb 14, 2012 By Cathy Lawhon
Campus engineers developing the Smart Labs technology worked under “a binding requirement that these energy savings could not be achieved at the expense of safety,” notes Wendell Brase, vice chancellor for administrative & business services. Credit: Steve Zylius / University Communications

If research labs account for two-thirds of a campus’s carbon footprint, it doesn’t take an Einstein to target them for energy savings. Where the genius comes in is figuring out how to do it, and when UC Irvine engineers put their brains to the problem, they came up with Smart Labs – systems that can reduce energy consumption by up to 50 percent in new and retrofitted labs. UCI’s Facilities Management and Environmental Health & Safety divisions are now receiving nationwide recognition as they share their problem-solving wizardry with other campus, private-industry and government labs.

“Until recently, most attempts to improve laboratory efficiency had plateaued at about 25 percent better than code,” says Wendell Brase, vice chancellor for administrative & business services. “In order to make a major impact on our carbon footprint, UCI set a goal of 50 percent, which – if successful – would raise the bar for all laboratories. We also set a binding requirement that these could not be achieved at the expense of safety. And I’m proud to say we’ve succeeded.”

Engineers focused on how the buildings “breathe.” Labs require 100 percent fresh air; the entire internal air volume of a typical lab building is discharged into the atmosphere through high-velocity exhaust stacks every six to 10 minutes. An enormous amount of energy goes into supplying, heating or cooling, humidifying or dehumidifying, filtering, distributing and expelling the air, depending on a lab’s needs.

In new and retrofitted labs, engineers worked with Marc Gomez, assistant vice chancellor for facilities management and EH&S, to integrate airflow systems with sophisticated occupancy and air-quality sensors. The goal: to tailor the air-exchange-per-hour rate to lab usage. When the facility is empty, for example, the rate is half what it would normally be.

Besides generating energy savings of as much as 50 percent, these so-called Smart Labs supply staff with constant air-quality data, giving them valuable information about the safety of the building.

“Chemical sensors installed in labs can indicate a problem – a leak or chemical spill,” Gomez says. “When that happens, the system can increase the ventilation rate and summon technical staff by texting them so they can fix the problem. We get a detailed, space-specific record of air quality and system performance, and these features actually provide safety information not provided in earlier designs.”

UCI’s Sue & Bill Gross Hall: A CIRM Institute was built from the ground up as a Smart Lab facility. Nine other campus buildings have been retrofitted with the technology. Work on Natural Sciences Unit I is in the design phase, and the retrofitting of McGaugh Hall and Frederick Reines Hall will be completed this year.

“What really make the labs smart are the reports and dashboards now available,” says Matt Gudorf, campus energy manager. “Not only can we spot failed components sooner, but we can determine what aspect of the operation is driving energy use and target it.”

The labs are a centerpiece of UCI’s participation in President Obama’s Better Buildings Challenge, aimed at making commercial buildings 20 percent more energy efficient by 2020 and accelerating private-sector investment in energy efficiency. UCI is on track to show a 20 percent decrease in electrical usage from 2010 to 2012 and expects to achieve 40 percent savings on the main campus by 2020 – twice the President’s objective. The university was among the first to commit to the Better Buildings Challenge when it was expanded to include the public sector.

Explore further: Environmentally compatible organic solar cells

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Turning Arizona's dry heat into a comfy chill

Oct 14, 2011

An innovative solar-thermal heating and cooling system installed on top of the UA's Student Recreation Center is expected to harvest almost 200 million kilowatt hours of solar energy per year – enough ...

Cutting our carbon footprint

Feb 13, 2012

Roofing materials that double as solar panels and can also moderate the temperature of buildings are among the next-generation building products being developed at UNSW.

Study: Can we balance air conditioning, saving energy?

Jun 21, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- When it's 100-plus degrees outside, all you want to do is turn up the air conditioning inside. Because of all of this cooling, some government-mandated incentive programs are aimed at getting us to buy more ...

Test of building smart sensors yields big energy savings

Apr 14, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- To reduce energy consumption in commercial buildings, computer scientists at the University of California, San Diego have come up with a way to use real-time occupancy sensors and computer ...

UC Berkeley start-up creates energy-efficient buildings

Nov 09, 2011

A promising idea came to light in 2003 in UC Berkeley’s Department of Architecture. A group of UC Berkeley engineers had been meeting regularly with commercial builders and designers in the school’s ...

Recommended for you

Environmentally compatible organic solar cells

4 hours ago

Environmentally compatible production methods for organic solar cells from novel materials are in the focus of "MatHero". The new project coordinated by Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) aims at making ...

Floating nuclear plants could ride out tsunamis

6 hours ago

When an earthquake and tsunami struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant complex in 2011, neither the quake nor the inundation caused the ensuing contamination. Rather, it was the aftereffects—specifically, ...

Unlocking secrets of new solar material

6 hours ago

(Phys.org) —A new solar material that has the same crystal structure as a mineral first found in the Ural Mountains in 1839 is shooting up the efficiency charts faster than almost anything researchers have ...

Ikea buys wind farm in Illinois

Apr 15, 2014

These days, Ikea is assembling more than just furniture. About 150 miles south of Chicago in Vermilion County, Ill., the home goods giant is building a wind farm large enough to ensure that its stores will never have to buy ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Quantenna promises 10-gigabit Wi-Fi by next year

(Phys.org) —Quantenna Communications has announced that it has plans for releasing a chipset that will be capable of delivering 10Gbps WiFi to/from routers, bridges and computers by sometime next year. ...

Floating nuclear plants could ride out tsunamis

When an earthquake and tsunami struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant complex in 2011, neither the quake nor the inundation caused the ensuing contamination. Rather, it was the aftereffects—specifically, ...

Unlocking secrets of new solar material

(Phys.org) —A new solar material that has the same crystal structure as a mineral first found in the Ural Mountains in 1839 is shooting up the efficiency charts faster than almost anything researchers have ...

Patent talk: Google sharpens contact lens vision

(Phys.org) —A report from Patent Bolt brings us one step closer to what Google may have in mind in developing smart contact lenses. According to the discussion Google is interested in the concept of contact ...

How kids' brain structures grow as memory develops

Our ability to store memories improves during childhood, associated with structural changes in the hippocampus and its connections with prefrontal and parietal cortices. New research from UC Davis is exploring ...