Go Green

NASA incorporates space technology in new energy-efficient buildings

Photo Courtesy Of Nasa Ames An artist's rendering depicts NASA's Sustainability Base, the nearly completed state-of-the-art office building at Moffett Field that fuses space technology with architectural design to maximize energy efficiency and reduce water consumption.

With just a month to go before construction ends on NASA’s Sustainability Base, workers are testing the state-of-the-art technology systems that last year earned the project the U.S. General Services Administration’s Real Property Award in the green innovation category.

Designed by William McDonough + Partners and currently under construction at NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field in Mountain View, the 50,000-square-foot office building features energy-producing and energy-efficient systems that comply with President Barack Obama’s executive order for zero-net energy consumption in federal buildings by 2030.

The GSA’s innovation award recognizes ideas that have potential to transform the federal community’s overall energy and environmental performance,

The new building, part of NASA’s Renovation by Replacement program, will provide office space for approximately 225 civil servants, according to Steve Zornetzer, NASA Ames associate director. The project replaces 75,000 square feet of antiquated office space in several small buildings and the wind tunnel, which have been demolished.

From the cement and steel exterior to the indoor carpeting, all construction components used for the Sustainability Base are recyclable and nontoxic.

“This is very important to us – everything in this building is recyclable,” Zornetzer said.

Technology systems include photovoltaic roofs for power generation, geothermal wells for cooling and heating, optimized natural lighting and operable glazed floor-to-ceiling windows.

The two-story, two-winged building’s curved design conforms to the research park’s circular perimeter.

“The design and position of the building allows maximum exposure of the roof to the sun to optimize sunlight,” Zornetzer said. “The electric (systems) will produce more energy than the building consumes.”

Not only is the building designed to consume less energy, but the roof’s solar system will provide 30-40 percent of what the building needs, and a second generation of solid-oxide-hydrogen fuel cells called Bloom Boxes, produced by Sunnyvale-based Bloom Energy, will be site tested. Zornetzer said he expects the cells to put Ames’ power grid over the top.

“They produce much higher energy and they’re more compact,” he said. “That fuel cell will produce twice as much energy as the building needs.”

But from NASA’s space technology itself comes the systems that will purify greywater and the software components and modules that control Sustainability Base’s intelligent adaptive control system, which senses all workers’ needs, including cooling, lighting and heat for maximum efficiency.

“It responds to individual occupants,” Zornetzer said of the system’s intelligence. “It learns from its performance and it learns to improve its decision-making.”

Not only can the system predict tomorrow’s weather and adjust the building’s temperature controls that include remotely operated window shades, but the system can also regulate a room’s temperature knowing that 15 people are scheduled there for a conference at 10 a.m., Zornetzer said.

In addition to a 6,000-gallon underground tank that will collect rainwater for irrigation, Sustainability Base will have a water-purifying system originally developed for the International Space Station. Zornetzer said the expanded system diverts shower and sink runoff from entering the Bay to use for outside irrigation.

“We’ve planted native plants that don’t require a lot of watering,” he said. “But when we do need to irrigate, we will be using the greywater rather than wasting drinking and potable water.”

Sustainability Base is also a candidate for platinum-certified status from Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, but the project could have gone in an entirely different direction when NASA initially approved a different building design.

“Once we started (working) with the design, I decided the original design was not what we should be doing,” Zornetzer said.

Zornetzer contacted William McDonough, who authored Cradle to Cradle guidelines, a multiattribute eco-label that assesses a product’s safety to humans and the environment and design for future life cycles.

“He’s a tremendous champion of sustainable design,” Zornetzer said.

And with workers set to occupy Sustainable Base in September and a dedication ceremony tentatively scheduled for November, all systems are a go for testing.

“So far, so good,” Zornetzer said.

For more information, visit www.arc.nasa.gov.

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