Sept. 11, 2008

Class sustainability project tackles a greener Hollister Hall

Making Cornell climate neutral is so tall an order, it is hard to know where to begin. For some students and faculty, the obvious place is the classroom.

A group of engineering management master's students took the call for reducing Cornell's carbon footprint to heart, dedicating their fall 2007 master of engineering project to a new plan for increasing energy efficiency in buildings. Using Hollister Hall as their case study, the six students, now graduated, proposed a comprehensive method for reduced energy use.

Advised by Pete Loucks, professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Frank Wayno, senior lecturer in the same department, the students analyzed possible improvements to the windows, heating, ventilation and air conditioning system of the building, as well as lighting, and the implementation of solar and wind energy.

One of the students, Susana Lara-Mesa, said that when she arrived at Cornell last fall she was aware that President David Skorton had pledged greenhouse gas neutrality through the Presidents Climate Commitment. She felt a key step would be to improve existing infrastructure.

"We felt like everyone was paying attention to new buildings, but what about the old buildings?" Lara-Mesa said.

The students' recommendations ranged from upgrading the insulation of windows to upgrading the HVAC system by adding an economizer cycle to the current air-handling units and substituting newer air conditioning units. The lights, they suggested, should be replaced by fluorescent or LED lights.

The students concluded that the university could save $21,334 each year if lower energy light fixtures were installed, and $3,649 each year with a more efficient HVAC system.

Although reductions in carbon dioxide emissions could be made with such changes, renewable energy sources would be required to hit the coveted zero-emissions level. However, they concluded that solar and wind for Hollister would not be cost effective, as their annual installation and maintenance costs would exceed annual savings in energy costs. Small-scale wind energy production, however, would be feasible.

Loucks said the report was an academic endeavor, and that no action is expected to be taken from the report -- especially since parts of Hollister are slated for demolition under the College of Engineering master plan.

However, he said that the students' work could inform decisions regarding other campus buildings.

"It could be a win-win strategy," he said.