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Achieving Labs21 Pilot Project Goals in NREL's Recently Completed Science and Technology Facility

Nancy Carlisle, AIA, and Otto Van Geet, P.E., National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Michael Medici, SmithGroup

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), located in Golden, Colorado, is the nation's primary laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. As NREL builds out its campus, it is committed to use each new building as an opportunity to demonstrate and showcase to other Federal, private and academic research campuses both how to plan for and significantly reduce conventional energy usage.

The latest addition to our campus, completed in June 2006, is the 71,000 sq. ft. Science and Technology Facility (S&TF). Designed by the SmithGroup of Phoenix, AZ, and built by M. A. Mortenson Company (Mortenson), NREL set LEED® Gold as a design goal for this laboratory building and designated the building as a pilot project under the DOE\EPA Laboratories for the 21st Century (Labs21) Program. NREL modeled the building's energy performance against three reference standards including an ASHRAE 90.1 1999 base case (LEED 2.1), the LEED-AGL energy performance modeling guidelines and the ASHRAE 90.1,-2004 standard, appendix G (LEED 2.2).

Building energy efficiency is a key driver for NREL's approach to achieving the goal of LEED Gold. Reducing energy use in laboratory buildings is especially important because typical lab buildings use four to six times more energy per unit of area than typical office buildings and the energy use for operating a conventional lab is now running in the range of $6.00/sq. ft./year of floor area.

The objective of the paper is to discuss the design approach, technologies, and strategies chosen to meet the LEED Gold design target and the goals that NREL set as a Labs21 Pilot Partner and discuss the results of the energy modeling.

Labs21 Connection:

NREL used a holistic approach to the design of the building. Strategies used in the building include:

  • Contextually and climate responsive architecture features including minimized footprint, orientation, and the integration of building orientation, window placement, shading, interior finishes and lighting controls to optimize daylighting performance.
  • Various engineering strategies including variable air volume supply and exhaust systems for laboratory and office areas, fan coil units in laboratory spaces, low flow chemical and laminar flow fume hoods, staged exhaust fans that are brought on according to building exhaust needs, exhaust air and process cooling water energy recovery, indirect/direct evaporative cooling, adjacent building central plant expansion with high-efficiency chiller and boiler, lighting controls, and underfloor air distribution system in the office area with demand-based ventilation using carbon dioxide controls.
  • Landscaping designed to detain water flow and to use excavation soil to reclaim an adjacent disturbed part of the site.
  • Aggressive construction waste management program coupled with other efforts to use local and recycled materials.
  • Via the Building Management System, the building will be monitored for energy consumption including chilled water, tower water, heating water, process water, electricity, and environmental conditioning.


Nancy Carlisle, AIA, is the Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) Group Manager at NREL in Golden, Colorado, and a licensed Architect in the state of Colorado. The NREL FEMP program has employed up to 17 full-time staff and has had a $4 million budget. At NREL, she led the development of NREL's 25 year Master Site Plan for both campuses. The plan provides a framework to develop NREL's campuses in a sustainable way. She leads NREL and FEMP's renewable program that involves working with Federal agencies to meet their Federal goals for renewable energy use at their sites. She has been a core member of the Labs21 technical program since its inception. She has worked at NREL over 25 years, in research, analysis, design and outreach activities that promote the design of sustainable low energy buildings. She is a LEEDaccredited professional and recognized as a Fellow in the American Solar Energy Society. She holds a Masters degree in Architecture (University of Colorado), a Masters degree in Urban Planning (University of Arizona), and a Bachelors degree in Economics with a concentration in Environmental Studies. (Colorado State University).

Otto Van Geet, P.E., is a Senior Engineer at NREL, working in the Federal Energy Management Program. Prior to this assignment, Otto was the Senior Mechanical Engineer in the Site Operations group at NREL, and a Mechanical Engineer at Sandia National Labs. Mr. Van Geet has been involved in the design, construction, and operation of energy-efficient R&D facilities for microelectronics, photovoltaic, thermal, and biological research, as well as office and general use facilities. Mr. Van Geet has been involved with the Labs21 program since its inception and provides technical guidance for the program. His experience also includes passive solar building design, use of design tools, photovoltaic (PV) system design, energy audits, and minimizing energy use. Mr. Van Geet is a Registered Professional Engineer, a Certified Energy Manager, a LEEDAccredited Professional, and a Project Management Professional. Otto is also a member of ASHRAE and ASES and has a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of New Mexico.

Michael Medici, AIA, is President of SmithGroup's Phoenix, Arizona, office and is a member of the firm's Board of Directors. Mike has over 25 years experience in architectural management and design and has been with SmithGroup since 1980, President since 1989, and a member of the Board of Directors since 1990. He graduated from Lawrence Technological University with both a Bachelor of Science Degree and a Graduate Degree in Architecture. In 2004, Mr. Medici was the recipient of the University's Distinguished Alumni Award.

Mike has remained active in managing several of the firm's past and current key projects, including: Science and Technology Facility for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Phelps Dodge Headquarters, TGen, Arizona Biomedical Collaborative, University of Arizona Medical School, Central Park East and Apollo Development at Riverpoint Center. The recent completion of two SmithGroup projects includes the USDA Arid Land Agriculture Research Institute in Maricopa, AZ and Drachman Hall, University of Arizona, where they began holding classes this past January. Mike is a leader in SmithGroup's overall Sustainable Design Philosophy. SmithGroup designed the first LEED Platinum-rated building the United States, the Phillip Merrill Environmental Center, Chesapeake Bay.

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