LAWRENCE — Early in January a group of University of Kansas architecture students started the foundations of a new research and teaching facility for EcoHawks, a KU School of Engineering student research program, on KU's West Campus.
EcoHawks focuses on sustainable energy for transportation, including alternative fuels and the interconnection between water and energy production. Its students started by converting a 1974 Volkswagen into a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle in 2008. Since then they’ve branched out into other technologies, including biofuels, photovoltaics and shrouded wind turbine research.
Likewise, students enrolled in the School of Architecture, Design and Planning’s Studio 804 course take a hands-on approach to learning. Each year the full-time class designs and constructs a technically sophisticated, highly sustainable building. Four of the buildings they have built over the last five years have received U.S. Green Building Council LEED Platinum ratings, the highest the council can award.
“The ideologies and goals of Studio 804 and EcoHawks are so similar that it makes the collaboration of the two groups a natural,” said Dan Rockhill, the J.L. Constant Professor of Architecture, who directs Studio 804. “Both of the programs are based on the idea that students learn best by being deeply involved in the actual design and making of things.”
“This new building will provide badly needed new space,” said Chris Depcik, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, who directs the EcoHawks program. “It will replace our current location in an old barn on campus.
“We will be able to use the features of this unique facility to demonstrate sustainable energy and transportation education,” he said. “It will allow the program to grow in size and scope, enabling the research and fabrication of next-generation vehicles and sustainable energy projects.”
Calculations by Studio 804’s students predict the building’s photovoltaic panels, and a proposed wind turbine could produce up to 12 percent more energy than the facility will consume. The excess electricity can be fed into power lines and the savings credited to the university through net metering.
In keeping with the EcoHawk’s mission, electric vehicle charging stations will be provided, along with showers for those who bicycle to the building. The building will feature other advanced energy-conserving technologies such as motorized sun-shading devices, Aerogel insulating panels and variable-volume refrigerant air conditioning.
Recycling is also important to EcoHawks and Studio 804. The studio will use surplus aluminum from the economically distressed aircraft industry as well as glass left over from a failed building project in Kansas City, Mo., in the building.
“It is an honor to be working with this group,” said Depcik. “From the start, both Studio 804 and the EcoHawks had a common vision of what the building should contain and how it should function. The result will be a glimpse into the future of integrated energy systems, a future where buildings, vehicles and inhabitants all interact with the electrical grid to conserve resources for the betterment of society.”
“All together transportation and buildings consume 70 percent of the nation’s energy annually,” said Rockhill. “And yet reducing their impacts is seldom studied in an integrated way, as it can be in this building. Studio 804 and EcoHawks are proud of their efforts to create a more sustainable future by putting ideas into action in a truly unique way.”
Studio 804 estimates that construction on the building will be complete by June 2013.