Facility Spotlight: Zero Energy Research Laboratory

The completion of the Zero Energy Research Laboratory at the University of North Texas will give students and researchers the tools to study the next generations of sustainable and renewable energy technologies.

The lab is a state-of-the-art facility – the only one of its kind in Texas – designed specifically to test various energy technologies and systems in order to achieve a net-zero consumption of energy. Net-zero consumption means different building systems, such as solar, geothermal and wind systems, can produce enough energy to power a building and in many cases even create excess energy to return to the power grid.

Zero Energy Research Laboratory“UNT is developing a multi-faceted research program in renewable energy, energy conservation, and sustainability,” said Dr. Vish Prasad, vice president for research and economic development. “Our LEED-platinum certified Apogee Stadium, which receives power from three wind turbines, and the first net-zero energy house in Texas further add to UNT’s goal of being a leader in sustainability.”

Construction on UNT’s new facility began in July 2011. A ribbon cutting ceremony will be held at UNT’s Discovery Park on April 20 (Friday) to celebrate the completion of the new facility. The ceremony will begin at 1:30 p.m. Discovery Park, UNT’s 300-acre research campus, is located at 3940 N. Elm St., five miles north of the main campus.

The structure has a number of advanced energy technologies integrated into its 1,200 square-foot space, including a geothermal heat pump, a radiant heated floor slab, solar panels, a building energy monitoring and control system and a rainwater collection system, to name a few. Outside, the facility has a residential-scale wind turbine and an electric vehicle charging station.

The doors, windows, roof and supporting energy efficient equipment are designed to be easily expanded and exchanged so that researchers can analyze new building materials. Dr. Nandika D’Souza and her research team hope to use the facility to test their plant-based building materials eventually. D’Souza is developing materials made from the fibers of the kenaf plant, a cousin to bamboo, with a $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

D’Souza is a key member of the Renewable Bioproducts and the Renewable Energy and Conservationresearch clusters. Both interdisciplinary research groups will take advantage of this unique facility to conduct cutting edge sustainability and energy research.

Dr. Yong Tao, chair of the Department of Mechanical and Energy engineering at UNT and the PACCAR Professor of Engineering, spearheaded the design and creation of the lab. Previously, Tao oversaw a similar project at Florida International University, where he served as an associate dean of their College of Engineering and Computing.

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. The house was built in Beijing and displayed during the 2008 Olympic Games.

“There are very few places for students to get hands-on experience working with the green technologies that will power our future. The Zero Energy Research Laboratory is now one of those locations,” said Tao. “This facility will be a great resource for our students, researchers and our industry partners.”

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, NuconSteel, Axium Solar, H2Options/BlueScope Water, Benchmark Precision Buildings and Acme Brick. Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. is the architect of record for the facility and Nouveau Construction served as the general contractor.

Read more about the Zero Energy Research Laboratory