Geothermal system lauded

MYREON COBB, UF physical plant director, demonstrates the use of a touch-screen display used to control the chiller system, an integral part of award-winning heating and cooling system installed in the Davis Street Building addition. (Photo by Randy Roberts)

MYREON COBB, UF physical plant director, demonstrates the use of a touch-screen display used to control the chiller system, an integral part of award-winning heating and cooling system installed in the Davis Street Building addition. (Photo by Randy Roberts)

By LOU WILIN
STAFF WRITER

A Findlay company’s heating and cooling system has won a global award for innovation and energy cost savings.

Designed by Greensleeves, a 7-year-old company, the geothermal system is projected to save the University of Findlay up to $1.5 million over 20 years.

That’s not Greensleeves’ sales pitch. It is the estimate of Jim Arnold, chapter technology transfer chairman for the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers. The engineers society named Greensleeves’ system as best in the world for a new educational building for 2014.

It was installed a year and a half ago in the 42,000-square-foot, $9.5 million Davis Street Building addition.

Greensleeves’ heating and cooling system is 10 times more efficient than a typical home system. It cost about $100,000 more than other geothermal systems, but its energy cost savings covered that in about 16 months.

“(That is) just not heard of … to pay it back that quick,” said Myreon Cobb, University of Findlay physical plant director.

“It saves more energy than we can see with any other system,” Cobb said. “As far as efficiency, it is higher than anything else out there.”

It helps that the system has plenty of options to get the building to the right temperature.

It is mainly a geothermal system. Water, the medium for heating and cooling, is pumped from an underground system of 30 wells, about 300 feet deep, Cobb said. The 54-degree underground temperature keeps water cool for summer and warm enough to aid heating in winter.

“Most of the time you get all of the cooling you need (in summer) from that water,” Cobb said. “You only have to run the (chiller) just a very little bit … and so, there’s savings there.”

The earth also is used to store summer heat to be used for warming the building in winter.

Much heating and cooling is done by manipulating the law of physics that heat moves toward cold.

A room can be cooled by lowering the floor’s temperature, which will draw heat from the room into the floor, said Stephen Hamstra, chief technology officer for Greensleeves. Pipes embedded in the floor and flowing with cool water do the cooling.

Rooms also are cooled by blowing in cool air from the ceiling. Air from the ceiling gets cooled by being blown over coils containing cool water.

That system wowed the engineers society judges. To achieve the desired room comfort, temperatures of the floor and of air coming from the ceiling sometimes differ. That difference is enabled by the fact that the system has three underground heat exchangers instead of a single heat exchanger, as most systems have, said Corey Metzger, chairman of the engineer society’s judging panel.

“That allows them to provide different fluid temperatures. The sensible cooling that they are getting … without having to do any mechanical cooling, is certainly interesting,” Metzger said. “It’s not a common practice and certainly appealed to the judging panel.”

The practice also contributes to cost savings, he said.

Additional cooling and heating can be achieved with a refrigerator-type mechanism. The chilling process in refrigeration involves drawing heat out of water, so that heat can be used to heat other rooms or it can be stored underground.

“Let’s say, through the summer, we don’t need that hot water so much, so a lot of it gets diverted to the ground. That ground warms up to 75, 80 degrees, and then in the winter … we want to pull more heat out of the ground. Well now that ground is much warmer than the 55 degrees that it was before, so the chiller is much more efficient at creating 95-degree water from, say, 75-degree earth temperatures instead of 55-degree earth temperatures,” Hamstra said. “(It) gets easier to make that hot water because that soil has been warmed up.”

But if too much heat gets drawn into the ground, the system loses efficiency. That becomes an issue in summer when one hot day follows another. A cooling tower on the roof of the Davis Building serves as a relief valve, removing surplus heat and cooling the earth so it can efficiently absorb more heat the next day.

“The cooling tower is acting like something in the building that needs heat. So it’s taking heat out of the system … and cooling it off,” Hamstra said. “Its operational efficiency is defined by how cold it is outside.

So it can be an extremely efficient device when we run it at night when it’s cooler, instead of during the day when it’s much hotter. Or even better yet if we run it in January when it’s (cold) … we would just turn on flow through the coil and not turn on the fan at all and we could get rid of a lot of heat.”

That was another innovation which impressed the engineer society’s judges, Metzger said.

“That was certainly an interesting design,” he said. “Really, the project, in general, is a very high-quality design.”

The daily masterminding of heating and cooling is done by software controls, which set room temperatures and decide how best to achieve the wanted temperature.

“It’s a very innovative (heating and cooling system) in that it uses a more advanced control (software),” Arnold said.

Each day, the controls record the comings and goings of students and faculty for classes and labs, outdoor temperatures and humidity, and which side of the building gets the most sunlight. The controls recognize differences among rooms, which ones need heat at the same time that others need cooling.

The software controls record what precise combination of heating or cooling options they employed, and how well it all worked on that particular day under those particular conditions.

“They in essence record how things are acting, how things are playing together, the different system components,” Hamstra said. “As they learn how those interactions occur, they make adjustments into how subsequently we control it today based on what happened yesterday, and the day before and the day before that.”

In other words, the heating and cooling system gets even better and more efficient over time, Arnold said.
Greensleeves is gunning to parlay its global award and other successes and double its $2 million in sales from last year, said company Chairman Frank Guglielmi.

To its staff of 12, Greensleeves plans to add nine this year, including sales and marketing people, engineers and software developers, said Sharon Keeran, vice president of operations and marketing.

“Now we’re beginning to sell through equipment suppliers,” Guglielmi said. “They want to sell our stuff along with theirs because it gives … a lot more energy efficiency than their (systems) do.”

Guglielmi and Chief Executive Officer W. Michael Linn founded the company in 2007, just before the Great Recession began and the construction industry slumped. The new company survived by scoring coups: It lured heating and cooling work from the Cleveland Clinic, NASA, and the Army and Navy.
It wrested the contracts with the business sense of Guglielmi and Linn, and with Hamstra’s credibility.

Drawing Hamstra to Greensleeves itself was a coup, Guglielmi said.

He was “in a big engineering firm up in Michigan. He was well-known for doing geothermal … and that sort of thing,” Guglielmi said. “This was his passion. He was on fire about it. He was the number one guy as far as we could see, so to us, that was important. We gave him a place where he could go experiment, do his mad scientist thing and he really loved it.”

Hamstra could tell from the start that Guglielmi and Linn were passionate about clean energy.

“What attracted me to Greensleeves, after spending a quarter-century building my own company with my partners, was the opportunity to do a very deep dive into technology that I think really can benefit a lot of people around the world,” Hamstra said. “It’s something that I couldn’t do working in a traditional architecture and engineering firm, but could do working with (Guglielmi) and (Linn) and the good investors from Findlay and elsewhere.”

“That attracted me to step away from a very secure position into a technology startup based in Findlay,” he said.

Wilin: 419-427-8413
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