Feb 12, 201308:00 AMPoint of View
New Lab in the Works at CSU
Moving earth is always exciting to watch. For me, it was even more so as I watched them break ground on the Colorado State University Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory’s (EECL) expansion into the Powerhouse Energy Institute. This development is the latest step in a march of innovative progress that has characterized the lab since it’s beginning in 1992. Three years ago, when I decided to attend CSU for Mechanical Engineering, the lab with its innovative, student-involved research approach played a major role in my choice. Interestingly the EECL was named one of the top 25 ‘Awesome College Labs’ by Popular Science in 2011 – Wow! The great research environment within the EECL may have pushed me to apply for a position at the lab, but it is the building that has made the lab comfortable and inspirational. The 1936 Art-Deco brick structure with its large, welcoming doors and multitude of windows, combined with the work and people, houses the true spirit of ‘The Engines Lab’ as a location that has served to unite private and university research and development with the goal of innovation to improve human life.
Three years and many great projects later, the power of the building has come to the forefront of the lab with the development of the new Powerhouse Energy Institute. Led by architect Bob Hosanna, the Neenan Company has worked collaboratively with the Powerhouse Energy Institute staff to design a highly sustainable solution for its expansion. The new building is a 65,000 square-foot addition onto the south end of the former Fort Collins power plant in North Old Town Fort Collins. The new workspace is exciting in itself. But this addition is especially meaningful to the lab as the design (and present construction) has been in complete alignment with the innovative, yet historically respectful tradition of the lab. The current structure is an awesome tribute to the individuals who made the building, Fort Collins, and Colorado so great. As a result, the design team was inspired to create an addition that complements the building, mimicking the original structure while still making it cutting-edge (LEED Platinum rating is expected). Fittingly, the facility will be a laboratory for the development of green building technologies. The vertical-axis wind turbines and a woodchip hopper for a gasifier system will stand where four smokestacks and a coal-hopper once stood, creating a modern study tool for the historic building’s former structures.
Energy in all of its forms is the work of the EECL, so the new building will not just serve as a space for research, but as a dynamic testing ground. Co-generative heat and power has been integrated so that heat from research engines in the existing building will heat the new addition, while a 55 degree ground source heating/cooling system in the building’s caisson foundation and the evaporative cooling towers operating during night will cool radiant floor slabs, eliminating the need for a conventional chiller. The building is targeted to have an energy reduction of 48%, with the help of an advanced 24-volt, structure-cooled LED lighting system, highly insulating fiberglass window frames, and other technologies. All these technologies, I’m happy to say, put innovation at the very core of the building.
As important as the building’s innovative design, collaboration is a key component of the EECL’s innovation. Open lab spaces and inviting offices allow members from across all eight CSU colleges and our industry partners to work together effectively.
When the new building opens for business in the fall 2013, students will be working in the labs. This will show visitors how the integrated classrooms, teaching, and research spaces work. Next year we will have the ability to move research projects and vehicles into lecture spaces to enhance presentations, and a working roof will house a variety of solar-based research projects. While I am looking forward to starting graduate school at CSU just as the addition is completed, I’m more excited knowing that it will provide an opportunity for more students to build skills working on great projects and interact with great people as I have far into the future. Oh, and I nearly forgot, there are plans for an awesome foosball table and rooftop barbecue grill!
Darryl Beemer is a junior mechanical engineering major from Loveland, Colorado and has worked on a variety of projects at the EECL in his three years as a student intern at the CSU facility.