$129 million grant starts major effort for energy-efficient buildings

September 03, 2010

A recently announced $129 million grant from several federal sources, including the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and an additional $30 million from Pennsylvania marks the beginning of a major five-year research project to make buildings more energy efficient.

The effort will include 23 faculty members from five Penn State colleges, including Engineering, Arts and Architecture, Earth and Mineral Sciences, Health and Human Development and the Smeal College of Business, and create an Energy Innovation Hub at the Philadelphia Navy Yard.

The grant is believed to be the largest ever provided to an institution in Pennsylvania and the largest in University history. It includes $122 million from the DOE, $7 million from three other federal agencies and a $30 million pledge from Gov. Ed Rendell to construct a new facility at the Navy Yard Clean Energy Campus in Philadelphia.

Penn State President Graham Spanier said, “Buildings consume 40 percent of the energy used in the United States. Finding ways to improve energy efficiency in buildings is the next big frontier in energy research and development.”

David Wormley, the Harold and Inge Marcus dean of the College of Engineering, added, “This is going to be a milestone endeavor. It is not just going to be experts in our architectural engineering department conducting this energy efficiency research, but in collaboration with countless people across academia, industry and government.”

The entire effort, called the Greater Philadelphia Innovation Cluster (GPIC), includes 11 academic institutions, two DOE laboratories, five global industry partners, regional economic development agencies and community colleges. All member organizations will maintain key, full-time personnel at the Navy Yard.

The GPIC encompasses more than 90 organizations with the shared goals of national energy independence and economic development.

Henry Foley, vice president for research at Penn State and principal investigator on the proposal, said he expects the award to spur innovation and job growth not only in Philadelphia, but also in the region and beyond.

James Freihaut, professor of architectural engineering and the project’s deputy director and technical lead, told the Philadelphia Inquirer the type of research that will be conducted at the Navy Yard is light years ahead of technology that’s currently available for energy efficiency.

Freihaut envisions building facades that can adjust according to shifts in outdoor temperatures and sunlight, materials that can remove humidity without the need to push temperatures down to uncomfortable levels and sensors that can detect harmful particles in the air and triggering filters as needed.

The challenge, Freihaut told the newspaper, is to not only develop technologies like these, but also make them economically viable.

Locating the Energy Innovation Hub at the 1,200-acre Philadelphia Navy Yard was a natural choice. Penn State has maintained a presence at the site since 2005. The College of Engineering’s Engineering Innovation Program operates three DOE centers including the Mid-Atlantic Clean Energy Applications Center, the Northern Mid-Atlantic Solar Resource and Training Center and the GridStar Smart Grid Training Center.

The master plan for the Philadelphia Navy Yard places the Clean Energy Campus as its centerpiece with the goal of turning the region into a global leader in clean energy technology and policy. The site offers researchers a large area equipped with an independent electric grid and diverse building stock that is prepared for future development.

The Penn State-led Energy Innovation Hub in Philadelphia is only one of three national hubs that will receive funding this year from the federal government. The other two hubs are focused on nuclear energy and developing fuel from sunlight.

Partners in the initiative include Bayer Material Science; Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania; Carnegie Mellon University; Collegiate Consortium; Delaware Valley Industrial Resource Center; Drexel University; IBM Corp.; Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; Morgan State University; New Jersey Institute of Technology; Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation; PPG Industries; Princeton University; Purdue University; Rutgers University; Turner Construction; United Technologies Corp.; University of Pennsylvania; University of Pittsburgh; Virginia Tech; and Wharton Small Business Development Center.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated September 16, 2010