Green Building News

Green Building News August 1999

August 11, 1999

Solar Energy Converts Brownfields to "Brightfields"

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has launched a new solar energy initiative to help make use of polluted, unused factory sites, often referred to as brownfields. The "Brightfields Initiative" will convert brownfields into sources of pollution-free solar energy and high-tech solar manufacturing jobs.

DOE kicked off the initiative in Chicago, where Spire Corporation will establish a new company called Chicago Solar. The company's plant on a current brownfield will create 100 total jobs in Chicago when it opens in July 2000. The City of Chicago and Commonwealth Edison will purchase a total of $8 million worth of Chicago Solar products to be installed throughout the city. ComEd will use $6 million worth of photovoltaics to improve the reliability and efficiency of its urban power grid. The City will purchase an additional $2 million worth of solar equipment for public buildings, including schools and transit facilities.

"This is a great project," said Mayor Daley. "This development will clean up an abandoned dump, attract an environmentally friendly industry to Chicago and create jobs for neighborhood residents. The City and its partners are ensuring energy efficiency and reliability, and improved air quality."

In addition to housing Chicago Solar, the redeveloped site will be home to Greencorps Chicago, Mayor Daley's community gardening and job-training program. The two-story, rehabilitated building will be a model of environmental design, the product of a partnership of the Chicago Department of Environment and the American Institute of Architects Environment Committee. The site design includes a greenhouse, rooftop solar panels, energy-efficient landscaping and reuse of captured rainwater.

The headquarters of Greencorps Chicago, which trains low-income Chicagoans in landscaping and horticulture, will include a community garden design studio for the public. The idea of mixing solar and gardening makes perfect sense to Mayor Daley. The City's efforts to improve regional air quality through renewable energy and community greening is ongoing. The Chicago Department of Environment is leading an initiative to reduce "urban heat islands" with techniques such as rooftop gardens.

According to Spire, the solar systems to be installed in Chicago as a result of this project will produce over 22 million kilowatts of power annually and spare the region almost 25 million pounds of carbon dioxide in the air over the next five years -- the amount produced by driving an automobile 64.5 million miles.

The Chicago project is the first "brightfields" redevelopment and kicks off a national Energy Department initiative. DOE is currently working with cities in California, Virginia, Minnesota, New York and Connecticut to expand the Brightfields Initiative.

Doucette Industries Licenses GFX Technology

Doucette Industries, Inc. of York PA has acquired a non-exclusive license to manufacture, market and distribute the patented GFX drainwater heat recovery (DHR) system. The availability of GFX was disrupted in May when Vaughn Manufacturing's license was terminated. The system's inventor, Carmine Vasile, will now serve as marketing manager for the product. "This development comes just in time for our appearance this fall on Bob Vila's Home Again TV show," says Vasile. GFX is perhaps the only DHR systems with IAPMO and UL approvals, so it doesn't require a plumbing code variance. GFX will complement Doucette's extensive line of heat exchangers for residential, commercial and industrial applications.

Indoor Pollution Flows from the Water Tap

Running the water tap can pollute the air in buildings, according to researchers at the University of Texas at Austin. Tap water contains trace amounts of radon, chlorine and even gasoline that vaporize when the water is heated. Showers, dishwashers and clothes washers are the main sources of this pollution. An article published in Environmental Science and Technology, described the research led by Richard Corsi, a professor of civil engineering at UT, and funded by the US Environmental Protection Agency. According to Corsi, breathing many of these chemicals may rival or exceed exposure from drinking the water. Well water is also a risk, because ground water may be contaminated by leaking underground tanks or industrial solvents spilled on the soil. Dishwashers were the most significant source because they release a wave of pollution when the door was opened. "In every single study, with just about any pollutant, you find higher concentrations indoors than outdoors -- even in the most polluted cities in the United States," said Corsi. He recommends proper ventilation when water-using appliances are operated.

Photovoltaic Water Heater Technology Licensed for Production

A novel system that uses the power of the sun to heat water is about to become commercially available after years of development and testing at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). An exclusive license has been granted to Four Seasons Solar Products Corp. of Holbrook, N.Y., to use the NIST-patented technology. The system is the first to use photovoltaic cells and computer chips to harness the sun’s energy for water heating. The NIST system uses an array of these cells to transfer solar power to specially designed heating elements inside a hot water tank.

The system can use as many as six heating elements. A microprocessor monitors the energy produced by the photovoltaic cells, and then determines which heating element or combination of elements to use in the tank. This process enables the system to work very efficiently, taking advantage of the varying amounts of solar energy harvested throughout the day and optimizing the output from the solar cells.

The system eliminates durability and reliability issues associated with solar thermal hot water systems. Solar thermal systems heat water by pumping water or an antifreeze solution through solar collector panels. These systems require the use of pipes and circulating pumps to transport the fluid from the storage tank through the collectors. The PV solar water heating system uses conventional house wiring instead of a pump or pipes to transport the collected energy to the storage tank.

Engineers developed and tested the system at NIST’s Gaithersburg campus. Several other successful pilot projects have shown that the system works well in different climates. For example, one system supplies hot water in the rest rooms at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The system is also in use at the Florida Solar Energy Center and at two U.S. military housing units in Okinawa.

Kyocera Buys Golden Genesis

Kyocera who became the world's leading producer of PV cells in 1998 is now the world's largest vertically integrated producer and supplier of solar energy products a merger between the Kyoto-based manufacturer and a company in Colorado. Kyocera International has acquired 100 percent of the common shares of solar energy systems integrator Golden Genesis of Colorado, which will change its name to Kyocera Solar, Inc and move to Arizona. KSI will continue with the same management team, staff and product line as it had before the merger. In addition, the company will assume the marketing of solar photovoltaic modules previously conducted by Kyocera America, Inc. It will market PV modules previously sold by Kyocera America, a subsidiary of Kyocera International. Combined sales of solar-related products from Kyocera and Golden Genesis during the past year amounted to $185 million. Kyocera recently expanded its annual solar-cell production capacity to 36 MW.

August 4, 1999

Another Breakthrough for Below Grade EPS Insulation

In April, we noted that new field research in Canada showed how high-density expanded polystyrene (EPS) insulation could be used below grade. Now Perform Guard brand EPS has been approved for exterior below grade installation in termite country. In its August issue, Energy Design Update published a detailed report on both events.

Until recently, builders in the southern US were forbidden from using any type of foam insulation on the outside of foundation walls, because termites love to burrow into it. From there they build nests and tunnel into wood-frame walls without being seen. Perform Guard was recently approved by building code agencies based on test data supplied by the manufacturer, R-Control. For now, it's the only EPS product approved for this application. The product's secret weapon against termites is borate, which is infused during the manufacturing process. To be approved, applications must also use AFM's Do-All-Ply adhesive, because that is the adhesive used in the test, and it is an integral part of the code evaluation report.

Center Demonstrates Asphalt Modifier from Recycled Tires

When the Pennsylvania Resources Council needed to resurface their office's parking lot and driveway, they decided to make a statement. By paying about 5 percent more, they installed asphalt containing a unique modifier made from recycled tires supplied by Tyreplex. Although the modifier displaced only small amount of asphalt (10 pounds of modifier to one ton of asphalt), it will double the life of the parking lot. And considering how many tons of asphalt are used each year, there is significant potential for diverting used tires from the waste stream. According to Steven Green, who coordinates PRC sustainability activities, the bigger benefit is the enhanced durability and longer life of the pavement. The modifier works in two ways. First, it extends the temperature range of the surface allowing it to perform better at both higher and lower temperatures. Second, UV inhibitors added to the tires protect the asphalt, too. PRC's parking lot also used recycled aggregate for the base and parking stops made of recycled rubber.

3-D Heat Flow Modeling Assist Architects

There are several computer programs that estimate energy performance in buildings. However, two programs add a new dimension to the analysis -- specifically the third dimension. An article in the July issue of Architecture describes how architects can use programs such as Algor and Heating-7 to improve energy use projections and mechanical system sizing. 3-D modeling is especially helpful to assess thermal bridging, in which heat flows through solid materials, such as steel framing, curtain walls and concrete slabs. The article cites the example of a building using cold formed steel framing for studs, joists and rafters. If spaced 24 inches on-center, R-19 wall insulation would provide only R-7.9 and an R-30 ceiling insulation would yield only R-11.2. If steel framing is also used for eaves, the insulation value drops by an additional 15 percent. The overall reduction in R-value is 63 percent. While there are materials and techniques for reducing this heat loss, these strategies are confounded to some degree by the high conductivity of steel, which pulls heat vertically through framing members. In the past, heat loss software accounted only for two-dimensional heat flow, but these newer programs include the third dimension. That helps designers plug these leaks before construction even begins.

Northwest Utility Customers Strongly Support Conservation and Renewables

With electric utility restructuring looming, the Bonneville Power Administration has assembled an extensive collection of market research concerning energy conservation and renewable energy. Included in the collection are public opinion surveys, as well as research and focus group reports, conducted in the 1990s across the nation. Taken collectively, this work shows that a strong majority of consumers supports utility investments in conservation and renewable resources. Moreover, consumers say they would be willing to pay more to ensure that their utilities invest in those "green" resources.

The surveys in the Northwest revealed that the majority of the region’s consumers want their utility to actively acquire clean resources. This finding is consistent with national surveys. Nationwide, there is slightly stronger support for utility investments in renewable resources than in conservation, but both were favored by significant majorities. Most surveys indicated that a majority of consumers would be willing to buy "green power products" from renewable resources at prices ranging from 5 percent to as much as 50 percent higher than the price for power that does not include such resources. However, some surveys found that an overwhelming majority preferred that their utility purchase power from renewable energy projects and add these to the current resource mix. The majority of these people want their utility to roll the higher cost into everyone’s rates.

SierraPine Products Gain Green Cross Certification

Several products from three SierraPine Limited plants have received the "Green Cross" designation from Scientific Certification Systems (SCS) for using 100 percent recovered and recycled fiber. These products are Ampine Particleboard, SierraPine MDF and Medite MDF. In addition, three Medite products (Medite II, Medite FR and Medex) received certification from SCS as "containing no added formaldehyde." The company's next step would be to certify product coming from its MDF moulding plant. Nearly all of its raw material comes from other company plants that have already been certified. The company will also consider certification of the five plants SierraPine recently acquired from Weyerhaeuser.

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