New environmental chamber opens the door for HVAC research

Did you know that buildings use about three-quarters of the total electricity generated in the United States? And that during the summer months, buildings cooling systems account for about 50 percent of the electricity peak demand?

 
    Dr. Tabares-Velasco and his graduate student, Sajith Wijesuriya, present the new lab to prospective students.

These were the statistics that Mechanical Engineering Assistant Professor Paulo Cesar Tabares-Velasco shared as he led a group of prospective students through his new lab during Meet Me at Mines, an event for prospective students from historically underrepresented groups. These high school students were the first to get a look at the new lab that will celebrate its official grand opening in January 2017.

The Building and Thermal Science Lab, located on the fourth floor of Brown Hall, is a multi-purpose, state-of-the-art environmental chamber. It allows researchers to control the environmental conditions in which their experiments will take place. Whether testing the thermal performance of wall assemblies or thermal storage technologies such as phase change materials, the ability to set exact environmental conditions is essential.

“The lab offers a combination of sophisticated control, a tight environment, and accurate sensors,” explained Tabares. “This allows us to mimic indoor environments like an office for testing passive thermal storage and also outdoor environments. We also have one radiant (hydronic) wall that allows us to set its temperature independent of the room temperature, enabling thermal testing of different wall assemblies among other things.”

In this new lab, Tabares’ research team hopes to find ways to increase flexibility to the electric grid. “Buildings hold great potential, combined with thermal storage, to solve some of the great challenges related to energy, smart grid, and global warming,” said Tabares.

Tabares' students also focus on improving heating and cooling equipment, indoor air quality and comfort. The new lab includes advanced control and laboratory-rated sensors that accurately control and measure several variables:

  • Supply and return air flow rates
  • Indoor air temperature
  • Indoor air relative humidity
  • Wall surface temperature
  • Indoor concentration of CO2 and volatile organic compounds (VOC)

Senior and graduate students will also use the lab for teaching purposes, such as senior design projects and Tabares’ Heating, Ventilation and Air-Conditioning class. Students will be able to control the supply air temperature and the relative humidity as well as air flow rate. The lab will be a hands-on source for learning about psychometrics (moist air properties and processes), indoor air quality, commissioning and thermal comfort.

Several industry leaders contributed to the Building and Thermal Science Lab, such as Building Automation Products, Inc. (BAPI) and EBTRON, which supplied the innovative sensors for temperature, humidity, and air flow stations.

 

CONTACT:

Deirdre Keating, Communications Manager, College of Engineering & Computational Sciences | 303-384-2358 | dkeating@mines.edu
Ashley Spurgeon, Editorial Assistant, Mines magazine | 303-273-3959 | aspurgeon@mines.edu