The UNT College of Engineering held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on April 20 to celebrate the completion of the new Zero Energy Research Laboratory. “A small building with huge possibilities” was the thread that resonated in the speeches offered by the invited guests as they shared their excitement over the new lab.
“This Net Zero Laboratory is anything but net zero energy,” UNT Provost Warren Burggren said. “It is producing so much energy in terms of ideas, visions, opportunities and challenges; I think we can almost feel the energy radiating from it.”
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. For Dr. Yong Tao, chair of the Department of Mechanical and Energy Engineering, the ribbon-cutting ceremony marks not only the completion of the Zero Energy lab, but it also “signifies the theme of balance between education, research, and outreach.”
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. Dr. Tao compared net zero energy to calories: “You gain calories when you eat and burn calories when you exercise. If there is balance, Net zero means you will not gain weight.”
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.
UNT President V. Lane Rawlins stated that he is finding that there is an increasing interest in higher-education sustainability efforts, which can encourage prospective students to choose UNT. The new lab and other initiatives at UNT, he added, is helping to make the university become “well-known as a hub for multidisciplinary research focused on green technologies and building materials and sustainability.”
State Representative Myra Crownover and UNT Chancellor Lee Jackson also remarked on the increasing importance of sustainably. Crownover said she has seen the dialogue change about sustainability, commenting that “this is a wonderful, innovative time.”
Jackson said that when the university started working toward Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design “platinum” certifications in 2002, it was considered an “edgy concept.” The UNT system has earned six LEED certifications for its buildings, but Jackson stated that “zero net energy is going to become the new standard.”