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Syracuse Center of Excellence’s Hybrid HVAC System Utilizes Geothermal, Boilers

The Syracuse Center of Excellence headquarters in Syracuse, NY, serves two important functions.

“It’s a lab, researching innovative approaches to clean and renewable energy, indoor environmental quality and water resources,” explained Martin Walls, Communications Manager for the center. “But it’s also a demonstration space, showcasing existing technologies that support sustainable design.”

Built on an industrial brownfield, the 55,000-sq-ft headquarters engages collaborators at more than 200 companies and institutions to address environmental and energy innovations for a sustainable future. To that end, the $41-million, five-story facility includes both laboratory and office space for research and business collaborations on innovative products and services.

The LEED Platinum-designed building incorporates an array of environmental and energy technologies and building innovations that include:
Pulse boiler technology—Pulse technology provides backup heating for the geothermal system that delivers both heating and cooling to the building at considerable energy savings.
Vapor intrusion system—Ventilation below the foundation prevents underground vapors from entering the building, eliminating a potential source of contaminants in indoor air.
Storm-water retention tank—The southwest corner of the property features a storm-water retention tank to control run-off entering the sewer system.
Urban ecosystem observatory—The 150-ft Urban Ecosystem Observatory tower is being used for a long-term, one-of-a-kind study that will assess Syracuse’s urban air quality, air flow and how outside air affects air quality inside a building.
Demand-controlled ventilation—The amount of fresh air delivered to a room varies, depending on the number of people who are present, saving energy when rooms are partially occupied.
Insulation—Solid façades include superior insulation to reduce heating and cooling loads. Interior insulation uses a 100% soy-based spray foam. Exterior insulation boards were created from sustainable natural fiber materials.
Under-floor ventilation and raised flooring—Ventilation is provided close to occupants for improved thermal comfort using a raised-floor system, allowing for even air distribution with lower fan speeds. The raised-floor system, situated 12 in. above the concrete deck, also provides convenient wire routing.
Radiant ceilings—Most of the heating and cooling in rooms is provided via ceiling panels that are embedded with copper piping that efficiently carries warm or cool water.
Restrooms—Restrooms feature waterless urinals, dual-flush low-flow toilets and faucets, and sustainable paper and cleaning products.
Furniture—Furniture is made from recycled materials and FSC wood and wood products. Furniture is also 100% recyclable by the manufacturers upon return.
Lighting—High-efficiency compact fluorescent and LED lighting, controlled by a daylight harvesting (auto-dimming) system and auto-shutoff occupancy sensors, are used throughout the building.
Windows—The south façade features highly insulated glass with integrated electronically controlled blinds that provide solar heat and glare control, capable of operation at 15-degree increments. The ceramic white dots on the windows passively reduce glare and solar heat gain.
Roof—The building roof is designed to reflect most of the sunlight, minimizing solar heat gain and reducing the cooling load. The roof is also designed to allow future installation of photovoltaics, building-scale wind turbines and rooftop HVAC units.

The building’s geothermal system uses more than five miles of tubing installed in 49 300-ft-deep wells to circulate water and exchange heat with the ground, achieving energy savings of 35% when compared to traditional heating and cooling systems. The ground’s constant temperature of 53°F helps heat the building in winter and cools it during the summer, meeting 40% of the center’s heating and cooling needs throughout the year.

When the geothermal system requires supplemental heat, two Fulton Pulse hydronic condensing boilers provide additional energy. The boilers also provide heat for domestic hot water.

Dan Brosnan, Sales Engineer with Comfort Systems Inc., the company that supplied the boilers, said, “The university is using the Pulse boiler because the boiler is so efficient. It has a small footprint and a fairly robust design without limits for flow rate and return-water temperature, making it the perfect boiler for this type of application, where water temperatures range from a low of 28°F (2°C) to a high of 90°F (32°C).”

Pulse combustion technology is widely recognized as one of the most efficient ways to burn fuel. A pulse is defined as one cycle of ignition and combustion of a gas/air mixture in a specially designed combustion chamber, increasing energy efficiency.

The Pulse boiler also reduces electrical consumption associated with the boiler. That is because the pulse combustion process is naturally aspirated and does not require a blower motor for operation. An assist fan is used for pre- and post-purge only and turns off once combustion has been established. Pulse boilers require electricity only for purge cycles, powering fuel valves, control and other safety features. The pulse combustion process itself requires absolutely no electricity.

“We’re not burning any electricity to put air into the boiler, because the pulse process pulls the air in using the laws of physics as opposed to a fan,” said Brosnan. “And because there aren’t any moving parts when the boiler is operating, other than the modulation gas control, the boiler requires less maintenance, and the costs associated with maintenance are considerably lower.”

The boilers at Syracuse CoE operate with the Synex Controls ModSync sequencing system, which optimizes the operation of the boilers to limit the number of cycles they incur while maximizing the efficiency of the boilers.

“Conventional boilers and control systems bring a boiler on, and once the boiler is operating on its highest firing rate, the control system brings on the second boiler,” explained Brosnan. “Using Fulton condensing boilers, the first boiler is brought on, and once it reaches about 50% firing rate, the ModSync brings the second boiler on. Then, both boilers drop to the appropriate firing rate and operate together.”

The CoE also uses a Synex Controls inSite remote-monitoring system to monitor the boilers, which notifies facility operators, through their cellphones, of any problems with the boilers.

Walls reports that the CoE views the boilers as an important part of the building’s success.

“We give many tours of this facility, and the boilers are included in the tour,” he said. “We have windows in the boiler room so that visitors can see the boilers, and we offer explanations as to how they operate to help heat the building. The energy efficiency the boilers provide is worth noting.”

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