NREL Builds New High-Performing, Low-Energy Laboratory

August 23, 2007

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)'s 71,300 square-foot Science and Technology Facility (S&TF) is one of eight federal Laboratory for the 21st Century (Labs21) pilot projects. Sponsored by the Department of Energy's Federal Energy Management Program and the Environmental Protection Agency, the Labs21 pilot projects incorporate sustainable and low-energy features into laboratory design and construction in order to showcase strategies to achieve high performing laboratories. The S&TF houses laboratories designed to accelerate renewable energy process and manufacturing research for both near-term technologies, such as thin-film solar cells, and next-generation technologies, such as organic and nano-structured solar cells.

Laboratories use 5 to 10 times more energy per square foot than office buildings, so there is a large opportunity for energy savings. It is estimated that the S&TF will use 38 percent less energy than a conventional laboratory designed to the ASHRAE Standard 90.1-1999. The largest energy load in laboratory buildings is for conditioning and moving large volumes of ventilation air; the most significant and cost-effective energy savings features focus on reducing the quantity of air that needs to be conditioned while still maintaining a safe working environment for the occupants.

The state-of-the-art facility is the first federal laboratory building to achieve the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED™) "Platinum" rating- the highest in the LEED rating system. Energy savings strategies include the use of variable air volume supply and exhaust systems for all laboratory, low flow chemical, and laminar flow fume hoods, indirect/direct evaporative cooling, and energy recovery from both the exhaust air stream and process cooling water. S&TF also uses fan coil units to provide heating and cooling directly to the laboratory spaces, nearly eliminating the use of inefficient reheating systems. Finally, staged exhaust fans are brought on according to building exhaust needs, so fans will not run at 100 percent capacity when they are not needed.

Offices are located in a separate module of the building from laboratories, and were designed so that 100 percent of ambient light is provided by daylighting between the hours of 10:00 am and 2:00 pm. The offices are conditioned by an underfloor air distribution variable air volume system.

NREL recently completed extensive computer modeling to determine the building energy performance. Building energy use was simulated and compared against three base case buildings — the LEED™ Application Guide for Laboratory Facilities base case; ASHRAE 90.1- 1999; and ASHRAE 90.1- 2004. NREL also calculated the simple payback for a series of 11 individual energy savings strategies used in the building. This project will be documented as a Labs21 case study, and will be available in 2007 on the Labs21 Web site.

For more information, please contact Otto Van Geet of NREL at 303-384-7369.