Green or Bust

The quest for "carbon neutrality"

Because using less energy means saving money, creating new "green" jobs, and maintaining the environment, America appears poised to elevate going green from merely an important goal to an essential one. And energy use in U.S. buildings will be an important target in the effort.

In July 2008, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) reported that the nation's 113 million households and more than 4.7 million commercial buildings use about 39.7 quadrillion BTUs of energy annually, about 40 percent of the U.S. total, making the building sector the largest energy consumer.

While running for office, President Barack Obama outlined his $150 billion "New Energy for America" plan, designed to make America "the most energy efficient country in the world." The plan endeavors to reduce overall electricity demand by 15 percent from the DOE's projected levels by 2020.

With a 15 percent reduction, the plan anticipates that carbon dioxide emissions will drop by more than five billion tons through 2030, a significant number of jobs will be created, and consumers will save an estimated $130 billion on utility bills. The goal would be met by requiring utilities to meet annual demand-reduction targets and by requiring new, more stringent appliance and building standards.

The Obama-proposed building-efficiency goal would require all new buildings to be "carbon neutral," or produce zero emissions, by 2030.

To achieve that goal, all future buildings would have to be designed and built to be 50 percent more efficient than buildings going up today, and existing buildings would need to be revamped so their energy efficiency would be at least 25 percent improved.

Purdue's School of Mechanical Engineering, with help from its generous donors, has long been on the case, working toward a future in which green buildings are the norm.

Beginning in 2003, Roger B. Gatewood (BSME '68, OME ‘06) blazed Purdue's green-building trail with his leading gift to the Mechanical Engineering Building wing that will bear his name. The Roger B. Gatewood Wing, due to open in 2010, will be the first building at Purdue to be constructed to environmental standards set by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Most recently, in September 2008, it was announced during the University's "Green Week" that a $2 million gift from Gerald D. Hines (BSME ‘48, HDR '83) completed the $11 million fundraising effort to expand the University's Ray W.

Herrick Laboratories. Administered by mechanical engineering, the Herrick labs are a hub of industry-oriented research in areas ranging from advanced automotive technologies to "smart" and green buildings. The enlarged and updated lab facility will include the Gerald D. Hines Sustainable Buildings Technology Laboratory, a LEED-certified lab for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. LEED certification was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, a non-profit organization dedicated to sustainable building design and construction.

"The Sustainable Buildings Technology Laboratory is a leading-edge concept," Hines says. "It will have a great impact on helping our industry improve the energy efficiency of buildings and make them more environmentally friendly."

As the lab focuses on new building technologies, it also will answer questions about how such technologies will affect human behavior and productivity, according to E. Daniel Hirleman, the William E. and Florence E. Perry Head of the School of Mechanical Engineering.

Since opening its doors in the 1950s, Herrick laboratories has established a long tradition of vanguard research. In keeping with that tradition, Purdue researchers working in the Herrick labs are at the leading edge in the quest to increase energy efficiency.

"Herrick was ahead of its time because it started as an interdisciplinary collaboration when it wasn't fashionable," says Patricia Davies, Herrick director and professor of mechanical engineering. "An animal sciences professor and a mechanical engineering professor got together to study the effects of climate on animals.

"All of our research connects with industry needs. For example, new concepts using theoretical modeling and advanced experimental techniques developed at the laboratories continue to have a great impact on the design of cars and trucks, the design of buildings, and equipment used in heating, ventilating, air conditioning, refrigeration, and other systems."

Among many diverse research ventures, current Herrick studies include these "smart" and "green"-oriented projects to benefit building energy efficiency:

  • Developing new types of heating and cooling systems that are more environmentally friendly, energy efficient, compact, and quiet than those in use today.
  • Creating "smart" equipment for commercial buildings that reduce energy demand when electricity rates are highest, during times of peak demand in summer months.
  • Developing a system to monitor and improve indoor air quality using mathematical models and sensors. Such a system could be used in buildings and commercial airliners to detect the release of hazardous materials or pathogens and trace their origin.
  • Using room-size climate control chambers to study heating, ventilation, refrigeration, and air conditioning problems.

"The overall concept behind the new Herrick labs is to go beyond green," Davies says. "We will learn through research how to further increase energy efficiency and lower environmental impact and also integrate occupant comfort and productivity into building design objectives so that you design spaces that people actually want to be in."

-Emil Venere and Amy Raley