UC students win 'zero energy' national design competition

A group of University of Cincinnati students took home first place at a national sustainability design competition, designing an essentially "zero energy" building.

The seven-member team redesigned the innovative Joe and Rika Mansueto Library of the University of Chicago. Students were tasked with theoretically creating a building with net zero energy usage.

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, or ASHRAE, sponsors the annual competition, and this is UC's first No. 1 finish.

Six graduate students and one undergrad made up UC's team; their educational backgrounds include architecture/construction and mechanical (HVAC) engineering.

The team worked on the design for about three months, says member Ravik Chandra, a grad student in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. The team divided into a group that worked on the building's architecture and a group in charge of mechanical systems.

Both groups worked closely to assure the building would be both pleasing to look at and energy efficient. That teamwork paid off, and could serve as an example to professionals in the field, Chandra says.

"It's the first time I've worked with an architect to solve a real-life problem. Usually the architecture or the engineering dominates (building design). It was quite a new challenge, and I never realized the many different aspects that go into architecture," he says.

Teams were allowed to relocate the building to the state capitol of their home state, which the UC team did, bringing it to Columbus.

Among the building's winning features were changing the orientation of the building to increase the amount of sunlight it would absorb. That cut cooling costs by some 20 percent. The team also altered the large glass dome that tops the building, using transparent photovoltaic cells that turned sunlight into electricity instead, says Dustin Altschul, the project manager who recently graduated with a B.S. in Architectural Engineering Technology.

They also installed a system to harvest rainwater for the building's use to cut down on water consumption. The building wasn't 100 percent net zero, but it was the closest to achieving the goal.

It's up to the Library itself to use any of the ideas, but UC team representatives will present their design concepts at the annual ASHRAE Winter Conference in January 2013 in Dallas.

By Feoshia H. Davis
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