Water Audit of the Jonsson Engineering Center
by Marc Battistello and Winson George
Sponsor: Steve Breyman
A water usage investigation was performed on the Jonsson Engineering Center during the Spring semester of 1997 by Marc Battistello and Winson George. The purpose of the audit was to determine where and how water was being used and then to recommend actions that could be taken to decrease water usage. The decrease in water usage is necessary for both economic and environmental reasons. The cost of water has been increasing by 40% per year since 1989. The conservation of our planet's water, or any other natural resources, is a necessity as the world grows and expands.
As in every project, we began by first notifying the public about what we were going to do. We set up a meeting with Phyllis Federici, the building coordinator of the Jonsson Engineering Center and John Barthel, a Technical Engineer. At the meeting, we gave them a flyer describing our project, which was to be distributed to the professors of each room in the building. During the meeting we also asked her important questions that would help begin our actual investigation including whether she had a list of projects currently in progress, if there was any previously collected data, and if it was appropriate to just knock on doors. She replied "no" to the first two questions and said that she would assign someone to accompany us as we went to each room. Phyllis had invited John Barthel to the meeting to answer our technical questions. He was very knowledgeable about the structure and the history of the building. He informed us of the location of the water meters and suggested to contact Mike Desmond about getting the reading every week. In addition, we also asked him about the open and closed loop system. An open looped system is where fresh water is continuously used to cool the equipment that are in each lab. And a closed loop system is a system in which the water is recycled over and over again to cool the machines. John stated that many labs were already installed on a closed loop system. Except for the seventh floor, which he stated was a cryogenic lab and requires an open looped system.
With the meeting behind us, we informed our coordinator, Nicole Farkas, to set up the meter readings with Mike Desmond. And we again reminded Phyllis to send the flyers and find someone to accompany us during our investigation of the labs. This was the beginning of the political obstacles we encountered. We felt that our project was taken lightly and therefore was given less priority. Even after weekly reminders, we were unable to get the meter readings, and Phyllis had not yet found someone to accompany us. After three weeks of patiently waiting, Nicole sent out a work order for the meter reading and Phyllis was still unresponsive. In the following week, the meter reading was once again unsuccessful. We then decided to begin our investigation of each rooms unaccompanied.
For the actual flow rate analysis , we brought with us an empty one gallon jug, a stopwatch, and an ultrasonic flow rate meter. Our plan on approaching each room was very simple. We would knock on each door and once the door was opened, we would briefly explain our project to the room lab leader. We then asked if he or she had any major water users. If the response was "yes", then we asked about the duty cycle (usage per week, month or year), and if they knew the flow rate of the equipment. If the flow rate was not available to them, then we used our equipment to find the flow rate. We found that all the rooms that consumed the most water were rooms which had lasers. Most of the lasers used water straight from the sink pipes and therefore there was no need for the flow meter. In calculating an approximate flow rate, we measured the flow rate with the gallon jug six times and then took an average. It is very amazing how a gallon jug and a stopwatch can easily replace a six thousand dollar equipment such as the ultrasonic flow meter. We found that the flow meter is a very powerful instrument. However, it is very complex and for amateurs like us, we found it very difficult to use! During our investigation we found ever y lab to have at least one sink. The duty cycle for the sinks were so low that we decided not to calculate it in to our report. In addition to the labs, we brought our equipment to the restroom and measured the sink flow rate. Surprisingly we found that the seventh floor sinks had a flow rate double that of the third floor sinks.
During the period of our investigation, we also set up a meeting with our advisor Steve Breymen. He suggested that we look in to water conservation programs from other institutions and consider proposing one of our own. This suggestion was then given to Nicole who immediately set up a meeting with Oliver Holmes. Oliver Holmes oversees the Institute utility budget and the energy conservation program. He will oversee a new budgeting policy whereby each department will be accountable for their own power usage. This policy was a novel idea in that it would force a more efficient power usage. We felt that a policy like this would make an excellent contribution to our efforts for water conservation. As a result, we began searching through the Internet to see if there were any environment friendly institutions which posted their programs on the Internet. Nicole and Steve suggested to look for water conservation programs from Rutgers University, Brown University and Union College. After searching through their websites, we were unavailable to find any useful information. We then e-mailed the environmental coordinators from the schools and received no reply. After further investigation we decided it requires much more detail and would make an excellent research project.
After ten weeks into the project, we gathered all the information together and tried to account for the water usage in the Jonsson Engineering Center. The results can be seen in the following pages. All in all, this project has been a learning experience in every aspect. Most of all we believed that the experience and knowledge gained by trying to overcome the obstacles throughout this project has been the greatest aspect. There are two important points that we learned throughout this project. The first is that, patience is in fact is a virtue. But excessive amounts can definitely hinder your progress. And the second point is to make an aggressive effort in making people take your project seriously.
When considering a project like this, one must understand that the obstacles are great. The first obstacle we found out was that water conservation is not a high priority on an engineer's list! Primarily because water is taken for granted and the cost of water compared to the other utilities are considerably lower. For example, we found that even the number one water-using machine in the JEC uses $2,766 worth of water per year. This numerical value is very insignificant compared to the utility budget. The second obstacle we faced was the lack of authority we had. We felt that a major contributor to our problems was our status as students and not faculty members. This was seen in our interaction with Phyills. After our meeting with her, it seemed as if she ignored our project. However, two days before our presentation of our project to the Key Executives, she e-mailed us offering her help. She felt that she needed to help us so that we could make a good impression on these important people. Therefore, an excellent suggestion when beginning a project like this is to find a highly regarded person and have him or her endorse the project. [Although Nicole wrote a letter which was sent to Phyllis from Oliver Holmes requesting her help on the project, this apparently was not enough.]
We began our investigation of the JEC by compiling a list of rooms that use large amounts of water in the building. All of the rooms in the JEC were investigated and the top eight users were investigated further. A chart of these rooms can be found in the Appendix. This chart shows the room number, type of research, purpose for the water use, the flow rate, duty cycle, and total yearly usage.
The chart shows that laser cooling is one of the major contributors to water use in the JEC, using almost 1.5 million gallons of water per year. This cost $5,600 dollars in 1996. Room 5311 seems to be the largest user but this may not be the case. The data for room 5311 was incomplete because their was not sufficient time or resources available to determine the exact flow rate. A flow rate of 6.5 gpm was estimated and further investigation is needed to determine the exact yearly usage. In any case the instrument is run for over 1800 hrs/yr. Even if a flow rate as low as 3 gpm is used, the instrument still uses over 300,000 gals/yr which costs over $1,000 per year.
The data collected was used to perform several economic analyses. Two scenarios were plotted involving increased and decreased water use. For both scenarios a percentage of 5% change was used. An average increase of 6% was used to simulate the increase in cost of water in Troy. The present worth of these changes was determined for a 5 year period. The present values represent the total amount of money that would be saved or spent over the next five years.
The results are listed below and are compared to a do-nothing type scenario.
0: No change in Water Usage
1: 5% increase Present Value for next 5 years: $55,384
2: 5% decrease Present Value for next 5 years: $42,795
These numbers clearly show that even a small decrease, 5%, can save a significant amount of money without any investment in changing or retrofitting existing equipment.
A more ambitious decision would be to retrofit the larger water consumers so that they were using the closed-loop system instead of just dumping water down the drain as is in an open-looped situation.
Below is the economic analysis for the top eight water consumers. The analysis has been performed on room 5311 but as stated before the data for this room is at most an educated guess. An average cost of $350 has been us ed as the cost necessary to retrofit an existing setup. This is a rough estimate and will probably vary by room. In some rooms the retrofit may be as simple as screwing some pipes together and in other rooms it may be necessary to do extensive work.
The chart shows that for the first six rooms it is clearly beneficial to retrofit. A small upfront investment results in substantial savings in the future. Unlike simply using less water, this course of action does require some additional investigation. The effects of the increased load on the CL system and the inconvenience to the lab personnel need to be investigated. The loading on the CL system involves determining how much water the system can cool and what sort of effects this has on amount of power needed to run the system. Investigation of these two issues would be the next step for anyone picking up this URP in the future.
The chart also shows the rooms 2037 and 7204 do not use enough water to make it economically beneficial to retrofit them. They do not use enough water in five years to pay for the retrofit.
The economic analysis in the results section shows that the most beneficial, both economically and environmentally, solution is to retrofit the existing labs so that they are piped into the CL system. More information is needed to make an informed decision. The effects on the CL system and the inconvenience, if any, to the lab personnel need to be evaluated. Until this information is gathered and analyzed the best option is to inform and educate building occupants to reduce the amount of water they use. This will produce some cost saving while still benefiting the environment.
The next step is clearly to investigate the effects of increasing the load on the CL system and determining the amount of discomfort, if any, the labs will experience due to a change over to a CL system. The first step in investigating the loading on the CL system is to determine exactly how much additional load the CL system can handle. To determine the loading limits of the system is a difficult task. Some specifications of the system may be obtained from the manufacturer and talking to the maintenance personnel will also help. Information is available from the maintenance and repair companies. Also Mechanical engineering professors may provide some assistance. Assessing the inconvenience caused to the personnel is also a difficult task. The best way to pursue this would be to create a survey and interview the lab personnel. The inconvenience could be things such as readjustment of equipment to compensate for change in CL water temperature, additional piping, down-time for the retrofit, and pressure requirements if any. If the CL system is capable of handling the proposed loading then an energy analysis needs to be performed to determine what cost will be created by increasing the load on the system. This cost data then needs to be compared to the savings data presented in the RESULTS section. While performing this analysis additional time needs to be setup to meet with the JEC personnel. During this time the retrofit idea needs to be "sold" to them. The heads of departments and lab personnel have the final say so you need to get them on your side. With all of this completed all that needs to be done is scheduling times to have the equipment retrofitted.
In addition to the Water Audit of the JEC, we also met with Steve Breyman one afternoon and discussed several other interesting topics. Most centered around the new budgeting system. This new budget allocates the responsibility of the utility bills for the Energy Department over to the individual schools, Engineering, Science, Architecture, etc. Steve discussed further breaking this responsibility up within the schools to individual research. This would require closer monitoring of the projects but would also enable incentive type system that would reward environmentally conscious labs. This idea was discussed with Oliver Holmes during another meeting. It is an interesting topic and definitely worth more investigation.
Steve Breyman suggested looking into other schools with progressive environmental movements to see if anyone else was doing anything like this. For the university to buy the idea of transferring the responsibility of the water bill over to the individual departments the university would require hard evidence that would show that this course of action would result in cost savings without being too much of a burden. The best way to prove this is to find schools, or even other large organizations, that are using an incentive type system. If data can be dug up that shows that incentives work then the university will be more apt to trying the system. Also by looking at organizations that are using this system you will be able to anticipate problems that may occur and solve them quickly.