Saturday, December 17, 2011

New Company Launches Product that Could Change the Elevator Industry

SmarTork of Boerne, TX has recently launched its much-anticipated spirator elevator hoistway door closer, which has received rave reviews in pre-production trials and promises to solve an age-old door-closing problem caused by wind. The company stands poised to begin manufacturing 2000 reel closers a week.

This brings to fruition a novel engineering effort that began many years ago. Kelly Marshall conceived the SmarTork reel closure in 1986 in conjunction with his sons Dean and Chris. The family ran an elevator business, and Dean needed ideas on how to stop persistent callbacks involving elevator doors subjected to high winds on the Gulf Coast. Kelly sketched a conical spiral that might solve the problem, citing the design used on garage door closers. Dean gathered garage door parts from the company’s garage door repair division and combined them with elevator parts to design the first prototype.

Kelly spent years on research and development, eventually using plastic mold injection to make cost-effective parts and create an operational prototype. He put a business plan together and arranged financing. But Kelly passed away in 2004, putting his dream on hold until October 2010, when his Chris and his family picked up the reins. They started SmarTork Inc. in 2010 and officially launched their door closer at the 2011 NAEC (National Association of Elevator Contractors) Exhibition in New Orleans. The company has teamed with an injection molding company and a spring manufacturer to develop tooling and produce production units.

Development of this product stems from the fact that elevators everywhere experience wind problems. For starters, all elevator shafts vent to the outside, as required by fire codes. “Any time somebody opens a door to the outside of the building, it automatically creates a pressurization or vacuum. You’ve always got air going in and out of the shafts,” says Chris Marshall, president of SmarTork. This makes the hoistway door harder to close.

A motorized operator opens and closes the doors on an elevator, both in the cab and hoistway. But this operator only closes the exterior door to a certain point before a clutch disengages it within the last one or two inches. “You need the spirator to assist that hoistway door to close that additional inch. And that’s where you get the tremendous amount of blowthrough,” Marshall explains.

The closer mounts on the interior of the shaft and moves back and forth with the hoistway door. It takes the form of a reel closer with a coil spring inside a spool that powers a cable. With conventional closers, the spring actually winds up when the door opens, meaning the torque and tension are at their lowest when the door is closing that last crucial inch or two, when you need the most force. Most spirators have a flat surface for winding the cable, so the torque is directly proportional to the tension on the cable. As one problem, the spring wears to the point that it occasionally needs to be rewound, resulting in many service callbacks.

The SmarTork spirator employs a conical helix design that puts the cable closer to the center of the hub at the critical stage of the windup cycle, yielding greater tension for a given torque. By crossing the torque and tension ratios, it actually increases tension at the door-closed position and reduces it in the open position with the spring winding up.

With tension applied more efficiently, the amps required to drive the door operator drop, resulting in power savings. Building owners may qualify for lower taxes by submitting to ASHRAE 90.1 as part of the overall building power savings, and it may improve their EPA and Energy Star ratings, which can also yield lower electricity rates and insurance premiums.

Besides a reduction in callbacks resulting from reduced spring wear and lower energy use, the spirator also offers increased safety because it closes the elevator door completely, engaging interlock switches to ensure safe operation.

For more information, visit

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Ohio University Electrical Engineering Professor Receives Top Honor

The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) recently awarded Frank van Grass, Russ Professor of Electrical Engineering at Ohio University, with the 2011 Dr. John C. Ruth Digital Avionics Award recipient. Van Graas was honored at the 30th annual Digital Avionics Systems Conference in Seattle, WA for outstanding lifetime achievement in GPS navigation.

The professor at the Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering and Technology is best known for his work on the Federal Aviation Administration’s Local Area Augmentation System for GPS approach and landing systems. His team at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton Roads, VA, was the first to prove that a differential GPS system could be used for aircraft autoland applications. He also led the team that developed the Integrated Multipath Limiting Antenna, which allowed GPS signals to be received with little distortion. Van Graas’ system is now installed at the FAA’s William J. Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City, N.J.

AIAA’s Dr. John C. Ruth Digital Avionics Award honors outstanding achievement in both technical management and implementation of digital avionics in space or aeronautical systems, including systems analysis, design, development or application. AIAA is the world’s largest technical society dedicated to the global aerospace profession, with more than 35,000 individual members worldwide and 90 corporate members.

Code Council and ASHRAE Partner on Energy-Saving Publication

With safe and sustainable construction near the top of the national and global construction agenda, the International Code Council and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) have collaborated to create a publication with the most innovative energy-efficiency requirements for residential and commercial buildings. This new publication contains both the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) and ANSI/ASHRAE/IES Standard 90.1-2010 Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings in one volume to help ensure newly built and renovated buildings are in compliance with the latest codes and standards.
“Because the Code Council and ASHRAE documents complement each other, publishing them in one book benefits architects, designers, engineers, contractors and code officials,” ICC Product Development Senior Vice President Mark Johnson says. “This collaboration between the Code Council and ASHRAE provides the latest advances in energy regulation at a lower cost compared to purchasing the books separately. Because ASHRAE/IES 90.1-2010 is a referenced standard in the 2012 IECC, many professionals use both sets of requirements in their daily work.”
The 2012 IECC will be at least 15 percent more energy efficient than the 2009 edition, according to U.S. Department of Energy estimates. The code contains improved requirements for windows, doors, skylights and HVAC systems. The ASHRAE/IES 90.1-2010 has been expanded to include a broader scope, more detailed requirements and changes from more than 100 addenda improving all four of the major building components: envelopes, mechanical systems, lighting systems and service water heating. The significant changes in the two documents remain consistent with the American Recovery and Re-investment Act as required in federal laws.
“This new compilation will go far in helping the building industry reduce energy use and help to meet our nation’s energy goals,” ASHRAE President Ron Jarnagin said. “With publication of Standard 90.1-2010, ASHRAE and its partner Illuminating Engineering Society met an aggressive goal of 30 percent savings over the 2004 standard, reached in part thanks to significant public input from those in the building industry who helped us to increase the stringency of our flagship energy conservation standard."
The International Code Council is a member-focused association dedicated to helping the building safety community and construction industry provide safe and sustainable construction through the development of codes and standards used in the design, build and compliance process.
ASHRAE, founded in 1894, is an international organization of some 52,000 persons. ASHRAE fulfills its mission of advancing heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration to serve humanity and promote a sustainable world through research, standards writing, publishing and continuing education. ASHRAE and the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America jointly developed Standard 90.1.

Jacobs Associates Welcomes William Gates

Jacobs Associates welcomes William Gates, PhD, PE, PG, as a senior asssociate in its Seattle office. Dr. Gates is a retired U.S. Army Special Forces (Green Beret) officer and specializes in geotechnical and rock engineering, blasting, and hydrogeology. He has 44 years of experience dealing with engineering geology and geotechnical problems worldwide. His solutions have covered a wide range of interrelated geological and geotechnical disciplines attendant to rock mechanics, rock slope engineering, construction blasting, hydrogeology, fluvial geomorphology, soils engineering, instrumentation, and site characterization.

Dr. Gates is nationally recognized for his rock slope and blasting expertise and is often receives invitations from the Association of Environmental & Engineering Geologists to conduct one- and two-day short courses on rock slope engineering design and blasting. Dr. Gates’ additional specialties include photogeologic terrain and fracture trace analysis, fracture flow, and fracture mechanics. He developed and published the Hydro-potential Value (HP-value) technique, a method to semiquantitatively evaluate rock fracture characteristics and predict well yield, specific capacities, seepage, and no-flow conditions.

Dr. Gates is currently the lead rock engineer on Seattle City Light’s (SCL) Boundary Dam Rockfall Mitigation in Metaline, WA, where he conducted a detailed geologic investigation of the engineering characteristics and rockfall problems of the rock mass that houses the turbines and transformer bays.

Jacobs Associates provides solutions for underground projects in the water, wastewater, and transportation sectors. With an emphasis on tunnels and shafts, the firm offers a full range of design and construction management capabilities. They also offer the broader heavy civil construction industry a package of claims and dispute resolution services. Jacobs Associates has offices in San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Pasadena, San Diego, Boston, New York, Auckland, and Melbourne. For more information, visit

HNTB Survey Says Rough Ride for Highway Funds

According to the latest America THINKS survey from HNTB Corporation, people are fed up with congested, crumbling roads and are looking for decisions from local and regional officials about how to prioritize fixing them. Many Americans are bothered by the condition of their highways, with slightly more than one in two (54 percent) having a problem with the poor road conditions and half (50 percent) saying these byways are too jammed. "We can no longer ignore the growing liability our aging roads present to U.S. economic competitiveness and the mobility of our citizens," says Pete Rahn, leader of HNTB's national transportation practice. "Americans are feeling the pain every day as they commute and cross the nation's highways and bridges."

Congestion can be caused by several factors, such as a lack of alternative modes of transportation and continued population growth in today's "mega regions." In fact, 46 percent of Americans think there is excessive traffic in urban areas. Aging, inefficient highway lanes – whether there aren't enough of them or they are clogged with "slow moving" semi-trucks – also are seen as a cause of congestion. More than one-third (38 percent) of Americans are distressed by having to share lanes with large trucks and 25 percent think there aren't enough lanes. Perhaps fewer Americans would feel frustrated about the country's highways if trucks had space of their own. One-quarter (25 percent) think creating dedicated lanes required for large trucks would make the biggest difference in reducing traffic or bettering efficiency of freight delivery.

In 2007, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced a groundbreaking plan to highlight the need to reconstruct and expand six critical interstates, which carry 22.7 percent of the nation's daily interstate travel and are crucial to the efficient flow of freight traffic. These interstate highways – Interstates 5, 10, 15, 69, 70 and 95 – were designated "Corridors of the Future."

According to the latest HNTB research, nearly 7 in 10 (69 percent) Americans would be likely to support funding long-term improvements of these particular interstate highways. "Given the support these interstates generate among many Americans, focusing on them could be a key to providing voters a new vision for addressing America's future mobility needs. They truly are corridors for the future," says Rahn. "However, investing in these unique routes will require a special combination of funding mechanisms, including lifting the current federal restriction on tolling these existing interstate corridors."

Previous America THINKS research has shown many Americans prefer tolling over increased gas taxes. This latest HNTB survey shows many Americans (66 percent) also would like their toll money to go toward solving the wear-and-tear and congestion issues that cause so many to have problems with our highways. Forty-one percent of these people would be willing to chip in for repairing or rebuilding worn-out roads and bridges. Others would prefer their tolls went to developing dedicated truck lanes (30 percent) or adding lanes to existing roads (24 percent). In fact, more than half (54 percent) of Americans would prefer taxes and highway toll money went to long-term interstate highway upgrades, such as creating truck-only lanes or high-occupancy lanes than short-term highway maintenance projects.

According to Rahn, tolls likely will be an expanding source for future interstate highway funding. "A variety of different funding strategies, such as tolling, will be needed as inflation, aging infrastructure, increased construction costs, alternative fuels and improved fuel economy vehicles continue to eat away at the purchasing power of the federal gas tax," he says.

While most Americans don't have a problem with the tolls on highways, they do have a range of what they would like to pay. More than 4 in 5 (82 percent) Americans think the average toll rate for every 10 miles on an interstate highway should be a dollar or less. In addition, 56 percent think the average toll rate for every 10 miles should be 50 cents or less.

More than seven in ten (72 percent) Americans feel that interstate highway funding decisions should be made at the local or state level, while far fewer (27 percent) think this should be a federal responsibility. Transportation departments – including state departments of transportation (28 percent), local and regional transportation authorities (28 percent) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (24 percent) – top the list of who many Americans think should be the primary decision makers for addressing the needs of interstate highways. Far fewer think this responsibility should be left to local (8 percent), state (7 percent) and federal (3 percent) elected officials.

Similarly, nearly half (41 percent) of Americans think the state departments of transportation – not federal or other state entities – should handle approving the addition of tolls on specific highways, bridges or tunnels. "It's clear Americans want to take the politics out of transportation prioritization and funding," says Rahn. "It's time for our elected officials to do the same so our critical interstate highway system remains a valuable, viable asset."

HNTB Corporation is an employee-owned infrastructure firm serving federal, state, municipal, military and private clients. Professionals nationwide provide planning, design, program management, and construction management services. For more information, visit

Additional Survey Results:

  • More Americans in the Northeast, Midwest and West than in the South think highways are in poor condition (60 percent versus 45 percent). And slightly more than half (53 percent) of Northeasterners, Southerners and Westerners think highways are too congested, compared to 37 percent of those in the Midwest.
  • More than half (53 percent) of those in the Northeast and West have an issue with overcrowding on highways in urban areas, versus 42 percent of those in Midwest and South.
  • More women than men (47 percent versus 29 percent) have an issue with sharing highway lanes with big trucks, while men are more likely than women (29 percent versus 22 percent) to have a problem with the lack of lanes on highways.
  • More men than women (59 percent versus 50 percent) would rather tax and toll money went to interstate highway improvements that would last a long time.
  • Those in the Northeast and West are more likely than those in the Midwest and South (50 percent versus 36 percent) to most support tolls for improving interstate highways that are crucial to commerce and congestion relief.
  • More women than men (78 percent versus 64 percent) think these decisions should be made at the local or state level.
  • Slightly more than one-third (34 percent) of Northeasterners think the federal government should handle these decisions, versus 25 percent of those in other regions.
  • Americans living in the South and West regions are more likely than those in the Northeast and Midwest (45 percent versus 36 percent) to believe the State Departments of Transportation should approve additional tolls.
  • Americans ages 45+ are more likely than those 18-44 (89 percent versus 74 percent) to think tolls for each 10 miles of interstate should not be more than one dollar.
  • Eighty-four percent of those in the Midwest, South and West regions don't think tolls for each 10 miles on an interstate should be more than a dollar, compared to 75 percent of those in the Northeast.

UTEP to Oversee Push for Green Engineers and Scientists

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded a four-year, $3.2 million grant to the University of Texas at El Paso to oversee a multi-university effort to produce more scientists and engineers who can develop new alternative energy sources and ways to increase energy efficiency. Heidi Taboada, Ph.D., assistant professor of industrial, manufacturing and systems engineering, is the principal investigator of the BuildinG a Regional Energy and Educational Network (BGREEN) project.

Interdisciplinary teams from UTEP, Texas A&M University-Kingsville, Texas State University-San Marcos, and New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, NM, will work with the USDA and agricultural agencies to prepare students and graduates who can develop efficient renewable energy sources, incorporate biomass conversion, improve feedstock logistics, optimize supply chains and processes, and develop green infrastructure as they enhance the competitiveness of our nation in the global economy. “Demand for professionals with sustainable energy knowledge is increasing as employers need graduates who can better respond to energy challenges in all professional and business contexts,” Taboada says. “This demand also will create green-collar jobs in the industrial sector and in new technology fields and will put our country on track to a sustainable, low-carbon energy future.”

The program will help place student interns and train graduate students at sites in Texas, Arkansas, New Mexico and Oklahoma, as well as Panama City, Panama. Taboada will work alongside her UTEP colleagues: co-principal investigator Jose Espiritu, Ph.D., assistant professor of industrial, manufacturing and systems engineering; William Hargrove, Ph.D., director of the Center for Environmental Resource Management; Salvador Hernandez, Ph.D., and Shane Walker, Ph.D., assistant professors of civil engineering; and Juan Noveron, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry.

Jason Ross, P.E. Leads HMMH Rail Group

Harris Miller Miller & Hanson Inc. (HMMH) has announced the promotion of Jason Ross, P.E., to the position of director of transit noise and vibration. In his new role, Ross is responsible for leading the firm's transit noise and vibration services practice group, managing and supporting projects, business development activities, and resource allocation. Ross has previously held the positions of principal engineer and senior consultant at HMMH.

Ross’ project experience includes environmental assessments and impact statements, compliance testing, development of noise and vibration data measurement systems, analyses of vibration-sensitive equipment, public meetings participation, course instruction, and expert testimony. Ross currently manages the update of the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) Noise and Vibration Impact Assessment Guidance Manual and preliminary engineering of noise and vibration mitigation for the MBTA Green Line Extension Project. Ross has a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, a Master’s degree in acoustics and is a registered Professional Engineer in Massachusetts and Texas. Ross also serves on HMMH’s board of directors.

“I am very excited to provide Jason an opportunity to expand his corporate leadership to one of our most exciting practice areas.” said Mary Ellen Eagan, President. “Jason’s combination of solid engineering skills and consulting expertise will position us well in this dynamic field.”

Dagher Engineering Projects Featured in Architectural Record

Architectural Record magazine's special commemorative issue "The Death and Life of a Great American City: New York 2001-2011," honors New York City as a 21st-century design capital. In a section titled, "The City Reimagined: The Future of New York," Record's editors name the top 12 projects that are spearheading the transformation of the cityscape today. Dagher Engineering, based in New York, was involved with five of these projects, including:

Fresh Kills Park

Dagher Engineering designed a 770 square-foot photovoltaic arrayshade system and battery enclosure as the lead electrical and plumbing design consultant for the North Park Schmul entrance.

West 57th Street

Dagher Engineering is providing sustainable strategies and design as the lead MEP consultant for the Durst Organziation's latest cutting-edge venture with BIG.

Hudson Park & Boulevard

Dagher Engineering is helping transform the area from a desolate industrial neighborhood to a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly mixed-use district as the lead MEP consultant for the green center of the new Hudson Yards, the Hudson Park & Boulevard.

The BAM Cultural District

Dagher Engineering provided the MEP design for the Visual Arts Plaza and the streetscape of this new cultural district around the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Governor's Island Park & Public Spaces

Dagher Engineering is the lead MEP consultant for a visionary scheme for 87 acres of public space on Governors Island that is expected to generate a small scale construction boom.

WSP SELLS Acquires WAZ Engineering

WSP SELLS announces the acquisition of WAZ Engineering, PC by the firm. WAZ Engineering provides consulting and engineering design to public and private clients throughout the Southeast and specializes in hydraulic engineering ranging from flood studies, stormwater management, and drainage design to stream and wetland restoration.

WAZ Engineering Principal Amy Wazenegger, PE, CFM will lead the WSP SELLS Water Resources Group from the Cary, NC office. Wazenegger formed WAZ Engineering in 2005 to provide hydraulic engineering services while encouraging a healthy work life for employees with an emphasis on long-term environmental sustainability. Prior to starting her own company, she worked for an international engineering firm and the NCDOT Hydraulics Unit and has more than 13 years of experience in the water resources field. She has participated in the hydrologic study and design for a variety of roadway and highway improvement projects. In addition to her work with hydraulics projects, Wazenegger has participated in the study, analysis, design, construction, and monitoring of stream restoration and mitigation projects for a variety of clients and has an in-depth knowledge and understanding of federal, state, and local environmental regulations. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Engineering from North Carolina State University, is a licensed Professional Engineer in the states of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, and is a Certified Floodplain Manager.

Headquartered in Westchester County, NY, WSP SELLS has provided bridge design/inspection, transportation engineering, development infrastructure, water resources, land surveying/GPS, photogrammetric mapping, and GIS services to public and private sector clients since 1925. With a 230-person staff, WSP SELLS is part of WSP Group, a 9,000-person global design, engineering, and management consultancy.

KSA Engineers Launches New Portfolio of Environmental Services

KSA Engineers has introduced Environmental Services, which offers an extensive set of environmental-related services and solutions. Traditional environmental projects that KSA has completed include environmental site assessments, site cleanups, air permitting, and waste management/disposal. This new list of services will allow the firm to work with clients through environmental permitting and compliance for additional types of capital improvement projects. The new portfolio includes a range of services beyond permitting, which include developing biological assessments of habitats to avoid impacting endangered species, delineation of wetlands, wetland permitting support, and conducting overall field assessments and documentation required for a project's National Environmental Policy Act review.

"We are extremely excited about the opportunity to diversify our services and provide our clients with more options for their environmental work," says Lanny Buck, project manager at KSA. "We look forward to expanding our range of services in the environmental area." The introduction of Environmental Services marks another step in KSA's strategy of strengthening its position as a provider of professional services to municipalities, airports, industry, and the oil and gas industry.

KSA Engineers provides a broad range of consulting, management, engineering, planning, surveying, and construction services. Founded in 1978, the firm has grown to over 150 employees located in eight offices throughout Texas. For more information, visit

METRO Takes Design-Build Approach with Light Rail Extension

Phoenix, Arizona's METRO light rail will take advantage of the competitive market and gain the early insight of a contractor with a design-build delivery method for its 3.1-mile Central Mesa extension. This decision is a departure from METRO’s typical project delivery approach of design-bid-build, but it works in favor of building a quality product in this economy and in a way that supports the local business community.

“The challenging economy presents us with an opportunity to think creatively about how we move projects forward,” said METRO CEO Steve Banta. “A quality design/builder can help us navigate towards a successful project that will best serve the neighboring community and the public dollar. It will also benefit the project’s timeline.”

A strong benefit of the design-build approach is that the construction contractor will come on board early to work directly with the designer to build plans that are workable for both parties. Contractor expertise will also help to build a construction schedule that meets the needs of the agency, project, and community. “The City of Mesa supports the design-build option for the Central Mesa light rail extension,” Mesa Councilmember and METRO Board Vice Chairman Dennis Kavanaugh said. “It will advance the schedule and put Arizonans to work.”

The Central Mesa project team is now finalizing preliminary engineering. These plans will be delivered to a design-build team for further development in spring 2012. A Request for Qualifications, to initiate the Design-Build procurement, has been issued . Future project milestones remain intact. Utility relocation will begin in spring 2012 with the project to be complete in 2016.

The Central Mesa project is a 3.1-mile light rail extension that will travel east from the current end-of-line through downtown Mesa on Main Street to Mesa Drive. The extension will provide East Valley residents with greater connection to the regional transit system and help support the growth of downtown Mesa. For more information,

METRO develops and operates the region’s high-capacity transit system. The first 20-mile light rail line opened December 2008. METRO serves an average of 40,000 riders each weekday while also planning for six extensions that will create a 57-mile system by 2031. METRO had 1,258,711 total boardings in October, an eight percent increase over October 2010 and the highest in the system’s history. For more information, visit

Editor's note: See our feature story on the METRO light rail system at

Sixth LEED Professional Joins French & Parello

Modern technology may owe ecology an apology (a la Alan M. Eddison), but not the engineering firm French & Parrello Associates (FPA). FPA has recently welcomed Amin Gomaa, Freehold, its sixth LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) accredited professional. Before joining French & Parrello, Gomaa, an electrical engineer, worked in power distribution design, photovoltaic solar systems design, sustainable design, and project cost estimation, among other areas, in the United States and internationally. Gomaa, who earned an Electrician Diploma from Penn Foster Career School, Pennsylvania, holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Alexandria University, Egypt.

Gomaa and the rest of staff at FPA have worked on renewable energy projects from ground mount, carport and rooftop solar installations to hydro electric and windmill energy projects, all of which are part of FPA’s “go green” initiative. Argo Parrello, P.E., the president of FPA, says “We believe that a sustainable future begins right here in our own offices whether its recycling, using hybrid company vehicles, giving all employees re-usable company coffee mugs and re-usable water bottles to ensure bottleless water coolers, using an energy provider that uses 20 percent renewable energy, or migrating to a paperless office. FPA is committed to a better future for everyone’s children and grandchildren inside and outside our offices.”

FPA, has corporate headquarters in Wall, NJ and branch offices in Hackettstown, NJ; Mullica Hill, NJ; and Bethlehem, PA. The firm offers services in land development, land surveying, landscape architecture, geotechnical engineering, environmental engineering, construction phases, material testing, building design, telecommunications, transportation engineering, traffic engineering, water resources, and renewable energy resources. For further information, visit

Saturday, October 22, 2011

RenewABILITY Energy

Power in a drainpipe: A business thrives around a
novel device that recovers heat from water
flowing down the drain

Psomas - President & CEO

RenewABILITY Energy’s CEO Gerald Van Decker
with his invention

George Hayden, Jr. lives with his wife and four young children in a 4200-square-foot two-story craftsman traditional house near Mountain Top, PA. When I ventured to their abode in a new upscale wooded development, his wife welcomed me and asked if I wanted coffee. But while that added to the ambience and made me feel at home, this wasn’t a social visit. I was here to check out the plumbing and see a unique energy-saving device known as a Power-Pipe made by RenewABILITY Energy.

“This house was done as energy-efficiently as we could within limits,” Hayden told me as we walked into the mechanical area downstairs. They have a Rinnai Hot Way natural-gas-fired on-demand water heater, also known as a tankless water heater. “This with that makes a big difference,” he says in pointing to the water heater and then the Power-Pipe.

With headquarters and a manufacturing facility in Waterloo, Ontario (Canada), west of Toronto, RenewABILITY Energy has made its mark in so-called drain water heat recovery (DWHR) technology. Made of copper, the Power-Pipe DWHR system is a double-walled heat exchanger that recovers heat energy from the wastewater flowing down your household drain and uses it to warm incoming cold water. They sell it through retailers such as Sears and Home Depot and distributors.

This takes advantage of the fact that nearly one-third of the energy you consume in your home goes to heat water for everyday household tasks, but 90 percent of that energy runs down the drain, mostly in your shower.

 In North America alone, this loss amounts to about $40 billion a year.

Single-family homes as well as multi-unit residential, commercial, institutional, and industrial buildings can take advantage of the Power-Pipe to reduce energy use and water heating costs. Joel Murray, technical support manager at RenewABILITY Energy, reports, “The residential sector has been the major market focus. We have had moderate success with the commercial and industrial sectors. We do some applications for larger more industrial or commercial applications where they manifold several Power-Pipes together.”

The Power-Pipe is based on a principle known as the falling film effect. Water falling through a vertical pipe doesn’t run down the center of the pipe but instead clings to its inside wall, creating a thin film that maximizes the Power-Pipe’s ability to recover heat energy.

Multiple coils of rectangular copper tube wrap together in parallel around a central copper drainpipe. Hot water flowing down the drain transfers its heat to incoming cold water moving up the coils in a counterflow mode. Having multiple coils allows for adequate flow with no discernible water pressure loss. Falling film heat exchangers have actually been around for decades, but previous designs consisted of a single coil wrapped around the drainpipe, restricting flow, or used a non-counterflow design, which reduced heat transfer performance.

The drainpipe and Power-Pipe have the same nominal diameter, with the Power-Pipe installing vertically. Typical residential drainpipes are either 2 or 3 inches in diameter, and the Power-Pipe comes in diameters of 2, 3, 4, and 6 inches. The preferred configuration for providing maximum energy savings plumbs the home's main water line through the Power-Pipe. A second option is to plumb cold water through the Power-Pipe to the water heater only. A third configuration consists of running cold water through the Power-Pipe to the cold side of the shower fixture only.

Accommodates Growing Family
George Hayden built his new house in 2010 to accommodate his growing family and wanted to go with renewable energy as much as possible. It has four bathrooms, three tied into the Power-Pipe in a three-inch drain line downstairs. The outlet from the Power-Pipe feeds to the hot water line upstairs to supplement the water heater. In keeping with the renewable energy theme, they plan to add a 10-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system to the house.

Psomas - President & CEO

George Hayden installed a Power-Pipe in his
new house to save on utility costs.

In their previous house in Hazleton, PA, the Haydens had a traditional electric tank water heater and two showers. Their gas bill runs about $60-70 a month now compared to an electric bill of roughly $100 a month before. The only drawback they notice is a small restriction on the cold water supply going to more than one of the showers because it is being diverted to the Power-Pipe.

RenewABILITY Energy claims that using a Power-Pipe can raise incoming supply water temperature from 50F to 77F and reduce overall household water heating costs by up to 40 percent with a payback of 2 to 6 years. A significant potential for energy and cost savings often comes in industrial applications because of the large volume of heated fluids consumed. The Power-Pipe can recover up to 70 percent of waste fluid heat and use it to preheat fluids before they enter a primary water heater. And institutions can recover up to 60 percent of that wasted heat energy with a Power-Pipe.

Gerald Van Decker invented the Power-Pipe and founded RenewABILITY Energy in 2000 and serves as the company’s CEO. Before that, he worked at Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), where he engaged in project management and R&D activities in active solar technologies. Van Decker has a Master's degree in mechanical engineering and Bachelor's degree in systems design engineering, both from the University of Waterloo in Canada. And he is a Professional Engineer registered in the province of Ontario.

RenewABILITY Energy has about 20 employees, including 3 engineers. A mechanical engineer, Joel Murray has worked there five years. “This being a small company, my roles are diverse. I do everything from technical support to designing and sizing systems for larger commercial and industrial applications to process improvements on the technical manufacturing process,” he explains. They custom design Power-Pipes for larger flows and complex plumbing designs, while smaller systems are standard. They do energy recovery analysis to show customers the potential with their hot water. And they design tools to streamline the manufacturing process, which becomes more important as production ramps up.

The company does all the Power-Pipe manufacturing itself. They use copper DWV (drain, waste, and vent) tubing for the inner drainpipe and Type L or Type K copper for the outer coils, silver soldering or brazing the parts. “The main part is wrapping the coils. The rest is brazing the coils into a manifold with a silver phosphorous alloy using an oxyacetylene flame. It’s a very manual process,” Murray says. They purchase the copper tubing in standard round form from a copper mill in the U.S. and form it into its rectangular shape using a proprietary process.

According to Murray, RenewABILITY Energy sells Power-Pipes “all around the world. Since we’re located in Ontario, the biggest market obviously is Ontario. We also sell a good number of units all across Canada and the U.S. We sold some in a couple of different countries in Europe -- Bulgaria, France. Also Mexico. It’s becoming a more well known technology.”

Education Plays a Big Role
But even with this success, the company is still ramping up, and they find themselves in a constant education mode, Murray says. “It’s not a standard technology in the home, so we go around to engineering and architecture firms and designers and offer programs to learn about this technology. While it is a very simple technology, drain water is not something people think about for saving energy. Once they use that water, it flows down the drain and out of sight and mind. We’re there to show them how much energy actually is flowing down the drain.” They’ve developed courses for the American Institute of Architects and the U.S. Green Building Council, and they go to their chapters giving presentations.

Murray adds, “I was involved in designing an enclosed working display where we can create a hot water stream and a cold water stream and actually have one of our units in place that shows how much heat can be picked up.” They take this to trade shows.

Is it fun? “Oh, definitely,” Murray replies. “Especially during the education and design phase where people get that ‘aha’ moment that the potential is there. Green technology is one of the hottest markets right now, and there’s a lot of focus being put on it from many different perspectives.”

It helps that the Power-Pipe qualifies for financial incentives under numerous government and power utility energy efficiency programs. Murray says, “Utilities and energy companies have really backed the technology and offered aggressive rebate programs to their customers. That’s been the biggest surprise. They have programs for homebuilders across Canada and America.” Main examples have been Minnesota Power and utilities in Iowa and California.

Psomas - President & CEO

Hayden’s Power-Pipe works in conjunction
with this gas-powered tankless water heater

George Hayden discovered the Power-Pipe when RenewABILITY Energy rented space in a building in Hazleton that George J. Hayden Electric-Communications worked on. They have their U.S. office there. “I wanted to try their product,” he recalls. Hayden’s plumber followed the directions for installing the Power-Pipe and found it installed easily.

It’s not surprising that Hayden would embrace an energy-saving device considering his company’s direction in recent years. His father George J. Hayden started George J. Hayden Electric-Communications in 1975 as an electrical contracting company serving residential, commercial, and industrial markets. George F. Hayden, the son, serves as vice president of operations. In recent years, the firm has gotten into renewable energy, mainly installing solar PV panels and maintaining the electrical components of wind farms such as substations and transformers – the area around Scranton, PA has seen several wind farms go up in recent years.

With companies like this promoting the Power-Pipe and RenewABILITY Energy engaged in its extensive educating and marketing effort, we may all have a Power-Pipe in our home some day, and drain water will figure prominently in the energy mix.

For more information on the Power-Pipe and RenewABILITY Energy,

Friday, August 19, 2011

Field Electrical Engineer Needed in York, PA

Progressive Engineer Magazine has posted the following new job opening in its Engineer's Job Market. For more information and listings, visit

Field Electrical Engineer

Graham Engineering Corporation (GEC), a leader in the blow molding industry, has an immediate opening for an experienced, hands-on Field Electrical Engineer at our York, PA location. This position plays a key role in the development of opportunities in retrofits and upgraded controls and the related design, installation, service, and company-wide coordination of building the upgraded controls and retrofit business. This is an excellent growth opportunity for the individual interested in a broad range of responsibilities, including developing business opportunities, backed by a successful and reputable corporation. GEC offers exciting career opportunities to individuals with strong values and a desire to achieve and excel to their fullest potential. We believe an organization is only as strong as the people it employs.

Responsibilities include:

  • Keep abreast of overall market trends and identify market segments for which controls upgrades present cost effective sales and service opportunities.
  • Analyze competitive technologies and ways in which GEC can produce higher quality and more cost effective retrofits to existing equipment.
  • Provide engineering design services and assist in creating conceptual designs and help prepare specifications for new development projects.
  • Visit customer sites and evaluate machinery for retrofits and upgrades.
  • Write and prepare viable proposals, specifications, estimates and quotes for rebuilds, retrofits and upgrades, including scope and scheduling.
  • Create schematics, detail drawings, assemblies, sub-assemblies, BOM’s and layouts, using CAD, and perform required analysis to ensure the satisfaction of all project specifications and needed for the procurement, manufacture and assembly of components.
  • Visit customer sites to install retrofits and upgrades. Read, interpret and make changes to control system software installed in customer equipment.
  • Provide outside technical support of machinery as needed, including service calls, trouble shooting for retrofit installations.
  • Program logical machine functions using an IEC61131 program language and design HMI interface using a combination of visual Basic and canned HMI tools.
  • Schedule design reviews with Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering to review progress of design activities and to solicit input and suggestions.
  • Assist the assigned Project manager to ensure that all Engineering Documentation for components are released in a timely manner to meet the requirements of the Project Schedule and budget.
  • Work with the Sales Department in determining the viability of proposed retrofits to existing equipments.
  • Work with Purchasing to develop vendor specifications for out-sourced materials.
  • Provide technical support to all departments during procurement, assembly, testing and final acceptance of equipment.
  • Assist Technical Documentation Department in the preparation of all drawings, specifications and specific operating procedures required in properly supporting product in the field.
  • Work with vendors, consultants and outside resources, as needed.

Job Qualifications include:

  • Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering or equivalent experience.
  • Minimum of 2 years machine design experience.
  • Proficient use of related computer software, including MS Office and 2D CAD experience.
  • Demonstrated understanding of standard machine programming languages including ladder, structured text, function block and some HMI design exposure.
  • Effective oral and written communication skills
  • Strong understanding of Mechanical and Electrical/control Engineering
  • Available to travel 25 – 50% of time.
  • Available for customer site evaluations and installations during off hours.
  • Physical and medical standards for this position must be met by passing a physical examination by a Company approved physician.

GEC offers its employees a competitive salary and a comprehensive benefits package. We offer medical, dental, disability and life/accident insurance, flexible spending accounts, 401(k) plan, pension plan, educational assistance, paid holidays and vacation time. For immediate consideration forward your resume

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Progressive Engineer Magazine Announces a New Service

Let Progressive Engineer
Write for Your Organization

By now, hopefully, you’ve read a sampling of articles on our website that show the cool jobs engineers have and the technology they apply. We write these in a style that reveals the personal side of engineers and explains the designs they create in an easy-to-read fashion that laypeople can understand. Progressive Engineer can write a similar article for your organization, one that takes the form of a company profile, a case history on a successful project, or a profile of one of your engineers. You can take advantage of this whether you’re an industrial company, consulting engineering firm, or engineering college.

You might consider engaging us on a long-term basis to write a series of articles for your organization. From a marketing perspective, this will portray you as experts in your field, educate people about your services and capabilities, and serve as an inexpensive form of advertising, especially when compared with print ads in trade magazines.

Either I can visit your company or project site personally and handle the writing, or we can call upon our network of freelance writers around the country and find a writer in your area. In the latter case, the writer would work under our direction in crafting an article that fits our editorial slant.

In this age of social media, your article will reach many venues and wide audiences. For starters, logically enough, it will be posted on our website for viewing like any other story we publish, and it will remain there indefinitely -- several of our articles have stayed online for years and continue to draw many readers. You can set up a link from your website to the story. We will also post it on our Engineering News blog, meaning readers can find it on our Google Blogger site. We post a notice of any new story on our Facebook and Twitter pages. We also post it on our RSS feed, and we can set up an RSS feed from your website using Google’s FeedBurner program. This means anyone that subscribes to your feed will see the article.

If you’re not familiar with RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds, they’re those funny little orange icons you commonly see on websites (some in the business call them chicklets). Essentially, an RSS feed notifies you when information has been added to a website you frequent and sends the information to you to view. You can set this up for any website that offers the feed and for as many websites as you like. It saves you the trouble of searching your favorite websites for any new information added since you last visited.

But there’s more. We can place your article in print trade magazines as well. We handle not only the research, writing, and photography but also working with magazine editors in publishing the articles. I have worked extensively with companies and trade publications in doing this, and some of the stories you see in Progressive Engineer have appeared in print magazines in various forms. Here’s a partial list of magazines I have had articles published in:

  • Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration News
  • American City & County
  • Blue Ridge Regional Business Journal
  • College Planning & Management
  • Compressed Air
  • Construction
  • Engineered Systems
  • Graduating Engineer
  • Heating/Piping/AirConditioning
  • Hydraulics & Pneumatics
  • IEEE Spectrum
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • New Hampshire Highways
  • NISH Workplace
  • Permanent Buildings & Foundations
  • Popular Mechanics
  • Popular Science
  • Power Transmission Design
  • Process Heating
  • Public Works
  • Ski Area Management
  • Store Equipment & Design
  • Today’s A/C & Refrigeration News
  • World Wastes

Engineering firms: As a special bonus, if you hire us to write an article for you, you’ll receive a listing in our Engineering Firm Directory at no extra cost. This is one of the most heavily visited sections of our website. If you already have a paid listing, your next annual fee for that will be deducted from the payment for your article. The same policy applies to engineering schools that want a listing in our Online Engineering Education Programs directory. And any organization that signs on with us will also get to have their news releases posted on our Engineering News blog, another highly visited page on our website. This makes for a complete marketing package.

For more information or to discuss your needs, contact Tom Gibson at 570-713-4812 or Visit our website at

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Green Data Center Showcases Techniques to Reduce Computer Energy Use

Orange Lead the Way

The Syracuse University Green Data Center uses novel techniques such as trigeneration with microturbines and absorption chillers to reduce energy use, creating a model its designers hope to replicate with other data centers as computer energy consumption soars.

Cooling towers on the roof give a hint of the operations that take place within the nondescript data center building.
Cooling towers on the roof give a hint of the operations that take place within the nondescript data center building.

On an overcast February day with snow on the ground and slush on the roads, I turn left and make my way through the South Campus at Syracuse University in upstate New York, about a mile from the main campus. I could’ve turned right for a tour of the main campus and a peek inside the famous Carrier Dome, where the Syracuse Orangemen play football and basketball, but that would have to wait until later. I come to a nondescript, gray, nearly windowless building, and I know I’m at the right place because I see cooling towers on the roof.

This is the new Green Data Center (GDC) at Syracuse, completed in December 2009 and used by the university as its primary computing facility. They design buildings like this to blend in with their surroundings and locate them in innocuous places. But that belies the mission that takes place inside and the unique engineering project behind this groundbreaking building.

Mark Weldon, executive director of corporate relations at Syracuse, greets me at the door and escorts me inside. “This is the greenest data center in the world,” he proclaims. He tells how their previous data center was housed in a 100-year-old building that had become too outdated to continue using.

In explaining how the project came about, Weldon says they partnered with IBM. “We wanted to start something big.” IBM responded by challenging them to design and build a data center that would cut energy use in half, and they gave them two years to do it. “With that timeframe, we couldn’t invent anything new. We put existing technology together in a unique way.” Kevin Noble, manager of engineering at Syracuse University for campus design, planning, and construction, joined us and commented, “This project has been one of the most interesting and complex ones I’ve ever done.”

As the fruit of this effort, the $12.4 million, 12,000-square-foot facility contains specially configured infrastructure space for a power plant, including mechanical and electrical equipment to run the building, and 6,000 square feet of primary raised-floor data center space for computers and servers.

Data centers such as this have taken on added importance with our society’s ever-growing computer use. Roger Schmidt, chief engineer for data center energy efficiency in the Server Group at IBM, states, “Storage has increased by about 69 times over the last decade, and servers have increased by about 10 times. It’s a huge explosion of IT equipment in data centers, and that contributes to a big power increase.” Compared to a typical commercial building, data centers consume 30 times the energy per square foot on average.

The GDC actually came about through a collaboration between Syracuse, IBM, and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). Schmidt says IBM had worked with Syracuse for many years, holding meetings with the provost, engineering school, and data center operators. At first it was just about enhancing the old data center by putting in better equipment and best practices. When building a new one entered the picture, IBM donated $5 million in design services and computer equipment, and Syracuse got $2 million from NYSERDA.

Noble and his staff of five engineers guided the project, picking the design team and contractors and helping evaluate different options. One staff engineer, Jim Blum, served as project manager, and another one, Alex Medvedev, a mechanical engineer, served as the commissioning agent.

Fast-Track Design-Build Effort
The project consisted of two parallel design-build efforts that eventually merged. BHP Energy and GEM, Inc. handled design and construction of the power plant portion of the project, which included a trigeneration system and the incoming electrical distribution. Headquartered in Toledo, Ohio, GEM is a large mechanical-electrical construction firm, and BHP Energy is a design firm owned by GEM. BHP is headquartered in Hudson, Ohio, a Toledo suburb, and has offices in Toledo and Saratoga Springs, New York. The data center building itself and architectural design fell under VIP Structures in Syracuse. They retained an MEP (mechanical-electrical-plumbing) engineering firm, Towne Engineering of Utica, New York. Taking this approach, the team actually built the facility in 188 days to meet the deadline.

Dave Blair of BHP Energy explains the operation of the microturbines during a tour of the facility.
Dave Blair of BHP Energy explains the operation of the microturbines during a tour of the facility.

In reflecting on that, David Blair, president of BHP Energy and an electrical engineer, says, “It was probably the high point of my career. It was one of the most exciting projects I’ve ever been part of. I’m not a big fan of meetings, but the meetings at Syracuse were something I looked forward to. It was always an exciting experience because you had synergy when you bring a group of people together and you give them a goal of going beyond what’s been done before.”

Venturing into the power plant section of the building, Weldon took me into a room containing the backbone of BHP's integrated power system: 12 Capstone microturbines arranged in two rows of six for electric power generation. He explained that most data centers operate from the electrical grid and have diesel generators for backup power. “We can operate off the grid and use the grid as a backup.”

Gas-powered microturbines generate electrical power and heat for hot water and cooling.
Gas-powered microturbines generate electrical power and heat for hot water and cooling.

A microturbine is a combustion turbine engine that has come into vogue over the last 10 years for stationary applications as a form of distributed generation. Fueled by natural gas, the 12 microturbines here can generate all the power needed, enabling the data center to operate completely off-grid.

Capstone manufactures microturbines at two facilities in Chatsworth, Calif. and Van Nuys in the Los Angeles area and offers them in 30kW, 65kW, and 200kW sizes. They design and manufacture the electronic equipment, including generators and PLCs (programmable logic controllers) that control their machines. Their microturbines operate on a variety of fuels, including natural gas, biogas, flare gas, diesel, propane, and kerosene.

For this project, Capstone developed a new turbine product in six months, the Hybrid UPS (uninterruptible power supply) based on the C65, which produces 65 kilowatts of electricity. According to Steve Gillette, VP, business development at Capstone, “We can simply run the microturbines when the electric rates are high. It’s really a good match for a data center. We can now save money every day compared to the traditional UPS and backup diesel genset, which only adds value in the case of an infrequent outage.”

One component of Capstone’s microturbine design that makes them viable is an air bearing, which enables the turbine to spin at 96,000 rpm. This has a foil shaped like an airplane wing, and as the shaft starts to rotate, the foil pulls the ambient air in to create a thin film, and then it pushes that foil out slightly, so the shaft floats on air, minimizing friction and eliminating the need for lubrication. (Other turbines like those in jet engines use traditional oil-lubricated bearings because they have to support large mechanical loads.)

But even with this, Weldon points out what he considers the greatest area of energy savings in the data center. “When you get power from a utility, there are transmission losses.” Normally you have to convert high-voltage AC power from the grid to low-voltage DC power for computers. The GDC has its own DC sub-distribution system, with grid power routed through electronics in the microturbines. “Generating our own DC power saves about 10 percent of our energy use.”

Multiple Outputs Boost Efficiency
As good as they sound, microturbines convert only about 30 percent of the fuel energy to electricity, explaining why engineers like to capture the waste heat they generate for use in cogeneration applications to improve efficiency. In this case, they went a step further and employed trigeneration -- combined cooling, heat, and power (CCHP). As a distributor of Capstone turbines, BHP Energy has developed its ReliaFlex Power System, and this marked the first use of CCHP with uninterruptible power. As Gillette remarks, “We can get up to 80 percent total energy conversion efficiency compared to the electric utility grid that’s only 33 percent. You get two or three outputs from one fuel input.”

Driven by waste heat from the microturbines, absorption chillers chill water to cool the servers in the data center.
Driven by waste heat from the microturbines, absorption chillers chill water to cool the servers in the data center.

The 585F exhaust stream from each microturbine is collected in a common duct, and that flows to two heat-recovery modules, one for hot water and another for absorption chillers that make chilled water. These modules use conventional tube-and-shell heat exchangers.

I get to see this as we proceed into a room with the chillers and heat exchangers, where I am treated to a mechanical engineer’s dream full of brightly color-coded pipes and pumps. Two chillers generate 300 tons of cooling, 100 for the data center and 200 for the building next door, a 100,000-square-foot research and office facility known simply as 621 Skytop (its address). The system generates enough cooling that it could be used in warmer climates. Data centers need air conditioning most of the time to cool their computers and data servers. The chillers can chill water to as low as 45F, but currently they’re using 67F water for cooling both the servers in the data center and the space in the building next door.

Absorption refrigerators are a popular alternative to the standard four-stage (compressor, condenser, expansion valve, evaporator) vapor-compression variety where a source of waste heat is available to drive the cooling. The technology has been around since the 1970s. BHP Energy chose Thermax USA double-effect absorption chillers based on favorable experience with them in past projects.

Kevin Noble joined us again and explained just how you get cooling from heat in an absorption chiller. “It’s all magic,” he jokes. I would later pull my old thermodynamics textbook from the shelf to brush up on phase diagrams and refrigeration cycles so I could understand what he said. It seems an absorber, generator, and heat exchanger essentially replace the compressor found in a vapor-compression cycle. The chillers use water as the refrigerant, operating on the principal that water in a vacuum evaporates at low temperature. The vacuum is maintained by circulating a lithium bromide solution that absorbs the vapor from the evaporating water. The waste heat from the microturbine exhaust re-concentrates the solution by releasing the water vapor, which is then re-condensed in the cooling tower on the roof before passing through the expansion valve and on to the evaporator. With no moving parts other than water pumps, these chillers prove reliable and quiet.

Chilled water from the chillers is piped under the floor to racks of servers the size of refrigerators in the data center. Weldon showed me a rear door on a server rack with a heat exchanger in it that looked like a typical radiator coil with fins on it. The servers have fans that blow air horizontally outward through the doors. The cooled air then recirculates to cool the room and ultimately the servers.

Doug Hague, communications technician, peers inside a server cooled by IBM’s Rear Door cooling door.
Doug Hague, communications technician, peers inside a server cooled by IBM’s Rear Door cooling door.

This is IBM’s Rear Door Heat exchanger cooling door, made by Coolcentric. These remove heat more efficiently than conventional air conditioning. Sensors monitor server temperatures to determine how much cooling each door should provide; the environment can be controlled in each rack of servers.

Exhaust from the microturbines also flows through two Cain heat exchangers in the room with the absorption chillers to produce hot water. Noble says, “Depending on season and load, we can use that hot water to run the perimeter heat in the adjacent building, preheat the outside air used for ventilation, and produce domestic hot water. There are very few heat loads in the data center.”

Mark Weldon shows off batteries that start the microturbines and provide backup power.
Mark Weldon shows off batteries that start the microturbines and provide backup power.

Next, we went into a room containing 44 tons of sealed of batteries that augment the turbines. They start the turbines and provide emergency backup power in the unlikely event that all 12 turbines and the utility grid fail to provide enough electricity to maintain operations. The 300-volt battery banks generate at least 17 minutes of full data center power, permitting an orderly shutdown of computers in the event of a calamity.

Automatic Control System Does the Thinking
An automated control system complete with computers and PLCs decides which form of power to use in the GDC. In normal operation, power comes from the electrical grid, and the microturbines act as a current source with their output set to match the thermal requirement imposed by cooling the servers. With the loss of grid power, the microturbines kick on and act as a voltage source with the load setting the current. According to Noble, “With the utility rate structure in our area, it doesn’t make economic or environmental sense to operate the microturbines purely to generate power. You have to be able to use at least a portion of the thermal energy from their exhaust.”

In walking around the data center, Noble notes, “This is a lights-out data center. It has no staff and is typically controlled remotely from someone’s laptop computer.” He adds, “We have extensively instrumented this facility. The ultimate vision is to have it fully automated.”

Indeed, Mark Weldon showed me sensors in power strips along the doorway of a server rack, and the servers themselves have sensors. He estimates they have about 30,000 sensors for measuring temperature, amperage, voltage, and computing capacity (chip load), among other things.

But with all this technology employed in a quest to save energy and increase the efficiency of data centers, one question begs: Did they consider the use of renewable energy? When I posed this question to Noble, he replied, “We are actually considering supplementing our DC power system with solar panels. The adjacent building has a flat roof that’s over 75,000 square feet.”

The GDC is gradually coming online as equipment is being moved into it. Meanwhile, IBM uses the GDC as a showcase and research center for trying new technologies. According to Schmidt, “The idea is to deploy some of these technologies in our clients around the world.” He adds, “We’re working with the mechanical and electrical engineering departments at Syracuse University on software tools that will help our clients design better data centers and help their legacy data centers improve on energy efficiency.”

Hopefully, the creative thinking at the beginning of the project and the hustle to meet a tight deadline will pay off in many ways for years to come. While Syracuse University will benefit from reduced energy use in its computer operations, other data centers will as well as time goes on.

And now for that tour of the main campus and the Carrier Dome...