As the demands of a growing population continue to impact the environment, today’s generation is responsible to research and create total-system solutions to challenges associated with energy consumption, climate change, food and fossil fuel supply. The U.S. government is recognizing this by allocating money to energy research and development, resulting in more buildings and spaces dedicated to this science. However, these new research environments go beyond basic sciences—they are weaved together with applied sciences (sometimes along with business entities) to create diverse teams who bring together multiple perspectives to uncover the future of energy. The collaborative demands of cutting-edge energy research require a new kind of interdisciplinary environment - one that fosters a holistic approach through the creation of collaborative, interactive, flexible and energy efficient spaces.
New and dynamic energy research teams thrive in open and collaborative environments. In non-lab areas, spaces benefit from the use of glass to seamlessly merge offices, gathering spaces, elevator lobbies and seating areas into one visual interaction area. Inside the lab, modular planning and neighborhood concepts promote interaction and enhance flexibility. This openness encourages people from different disciplines to meet, collaborate and discover. However, some environments can be too open. Design teams must strategically balance open interactive spaces with quiet zones, which not only provide spaces for solitary work but also help in meeting specific ventilation requirements.
When academic and industry partners co-locate under one roof, flexible office
planning must accommodate the unique needs and culture of each user group. Non-research or business groups are more accustomed to open office plans with hoteling and large group areas, while academic researchers continue to prefer private office spaces. The best configuration of these spaces maintains these needs and cultures, while still fostering interaction and innovation.
Energy research environments may include high-bay and computation laboratory spaces, which, along with basic science laboratories, may shift and evolve over time due to technological advances. Through proper planning and adaptability, units can easily be relocated, expanded or contracted without reconstruction of structural or mechanical building elements. Modular planning and neighborhood concepts also enhance flexibility and promote interaction.
Last, energy research buildings must respond to their core mission—to use less energy and advance the state of the art. New energy conservation approaches include direct water-based cooling of process/ data center loads, evaporative cooling in lieu of refrigeration cycles, process heat reuse in-building or on-campus, combined cycle (co-and tri-generation) strategies, radiant chilled beams for heating and cooling, mixed-mode office and natural ventilation, high-performance fume hoods integrated with air quality monitoring and presence detection controls, and variable-velocity exhaust stacks responding to measured wind direction. These and other innovative strategies must be explored to ensure that energy research buildings (or any lab building, for that matter) walk the talk and lead the way in energy gains and efficiency.
NREL ESIF was recently named R&D Magazine's 2014 Laboratory of the Year, which recognizes the best new and renovated laboratories that combine all aspects of the building into a superior working environment.