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New facility to prepare workforce, conduct advanced research

Zero Energy Research Laboratory

UNT is leading the charge to produce a quality green-collar workforce by building a state-of-the-art Zero Energy Research Laboratory, where students and faculty will get first-hand experience with sustainable energy technologies of tomorrow.

The facility is designed to test emerging technologies that allow building systems to have a net-zero consumption of energy, and once completed will be the first of its kind in the United States. The UNT System Board of Regents approved the facility June 17, and construction on the lab is slated to begin in July at Discovery Park.

The 1,200 square-foot structure is expected to be completed in early 2012. The building will include:

  • main utility core
  • bathroom with a shower
  • small kitchen with a refrigerator
  • laboratory space

Initially, the facility will be powered by solar energy and will be expanded to include other alternative energy sources such as wind to allow a wide range of zero-energy building research.

The lab will be an invaluable asset to the students in College of Engineering, especially those in the Department of Mechanical and Energy Engineering. UNT became the first university to offer degrees in mechanical and energy engineering in 2006, and currently has more than 290 students in the program.

Students and faculty will use the lab as a testing ground for present and future sustainable technologies, such as structure integrated insulation, building integrated solar panels, energy efficient windows, energy storage and energy monitoring systems for smart grid, as well as the energy efficiency strategies involving user behaviors and social impacts. It will contribute to the global education and research infrastructure for collaborative initiatives in sustainable buildings.

The Zero Energy Research Laboratory will be an important facility for UNT’s research cluster in Renewable Energy and Conservation. The university created the seven-person team in 2010 to study technology strategies that address the region and nation’s 21st Century conservation needs. 

Yong Tao, chair of the Department of Mechanical and Energy Engineering and PACCAR Professor of Engineering at UNT, and a committee of experts oversaw the design of the lab. Tao is an internationally known researcher in fundamentals of thermal sciences, refrigeration system performance and renewable energy applications in buildings. He joined the UNT faculty in the fall of 2010.

Tao brings considerable expertise to the project. He previously oversaw the design and construction of a house powered entirely by solar energy at Florida International University, where he served as associate dean of the College of Engineering and Computing prior to coming to UNT.

Tao also served as the director of the Future House USA project, an initiative that brought together academics, builders, industry sponsors and lobbyists to create a 3,200 square-foot zero-net energy house that was built in Beijing and displayed during the 2008 Olympic Games.

Vish Prasad, vice president of research and economic development, provided the leadership for the Future House project when he was at FIU. Prasad believes that UNT’s facility will become DFW’s focal point for applied research in renewable energy and conservation.

This project is funded at $1,150,000 with a combination of HEAF (higher education assistance funds), operating funds and gifts-in-kind. It was made possible by donations from Schneider Electric, Acme Brick, Axium Solar, Benchmark Precision Buildings and Nuconsteel. Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. is the architect of record for the facility and Nouveau Construction has been selected as the general contractor.

(Drawing courtesy of Jacobs Engineering)

Posted on: Fri 01 July 2011

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