The Energy Research Laboratory (ERL), under construction at Hampden-Sydney College (HSC) in south central Virginia, has reached a new milestone. The freestanding building is now enclosed, and initial research is underway. Ground was broken in a formal ceremony on August 20, 2014, on the HSC campus, and construction began immediately thereafter. A little over four months later, the building is now fully erect and sealed, and the first research activities can begin while the facility’s interior is fitted-out and the exterior is finished.
The laboratory’s super insulated walls were constructed of 1′ thick concrete reinforced with patented, 1″ long helix steel fibers, which provide strength and flexibility to the concrete and uphold the building’s structural integrity in tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, and explosive blasts. The walls and floor provide highly efficient thermal mass, resulting in little temperature fluctuation within the structure over extended periods of time through all four seasonal extremes. Energy efficient exterior cladding will be added, and solar panels and geothermal wells will ultimately provide heated or cooled water for tubing inside the floor and walls, maintaining a consistent, comfortable interior climate.
“The construction is cutting-edge and unique, simultaneously providing green, environmentally friendly composition and methodology, exceptional structural integrity against a variety of extreme climatic conditions, natural disasters, and security threats, near-net zero HVAC operating expense, and a low cost of construction,” said Steven T. Huff, Chairman of Pensmore Foundation, which provided funding for the design and construction of the laboratory. “Practically any source of energy available today is fraught with political and regulatory difficulty and uncertainty. The greenest of all energy is the energy that you save, and that’s what this project is all about—the use of advanced, easy to implement, and highly durable technologies that result in very substantial energy savings while providing outstanding safety and structural integrity.”
The laboratory will be operated by an interdisciplinary team of HSC students and faculty, who will conduct research in thermal modeling, data acquisition, data analysis, and information visualization. A website is under development to showcase their work. Technical papers, including analysis of concrete curing specifics under different conditions at the ERL, are already in development.
“One of the most exciting elements of the ERL is the day-to-day interaction of our students and faculty in a hands-on laboratory, providing real discovery and data for the energy and construction industries worldwide,” commented Dr. Paul F. Hemler, ERL coordinator and HSC Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science. “At Hampden-Sydney College we pride ourselves in providing this type of practical learning environment, experience, and real-world impact.”
The ERL is expected to be fully complete and operational this spring.