Article - Office of College Advancement

Generating Heat From Thin Air

The campus of Ohlone College is a showcase for green building technologies, like its system that sucks energy out of the air to help the HVAC system.

By Michael Kanellos.

Thursday, August 6, 2009—Reprinted from Greentech Media.

Ohlone College Newark Center for Health Sciences and Technology.

NEWARK, Calif.—They look like gigantic hamster wheels.

In reality, the two enthalpy machines at the nearly two-year-old Newark campus of Ohlone College are there to help cool the building. The wheel effectively acts like a heat sink – mixing cold from interior air being sucked out by the ventilation system with the incoming airflow from the outside. The touch of cold pre-chills the incoming air and thus cuts down on the power needed to run the air conditioners.

In the winter, the system pre-heats the incoming air to reduce the power needed to run the heater.

But there is a health function too, notes Karen Cribbins-Kuklin, an architect with Perkins + Will, the architectural firm that designed the building. The building is effectively hermetically sealed. The windows don't open and all of the air is brought in through mechanical systems. While that sounds unhealthy, the air is filtered to such a degree that it's much cleaner than outside air. In fact, students have transferred to the Newark campus from the main Fremont campus because of it.

And there's one more thing that's interesting about the enthalpy systems: You can see them. The wheels are located behind a clear sheet of glass on the main mezzanine. The campus is effectively set up as a showcase for green energy technologies. Attached to a staircase railing is a piece of the rubber tubing for the shallow-depth geothermal system. In all, 26 miles of tubes snake beneath your feet.

There's also a sample solar panel (SunPower, easy to recognize) from the 600-kilowatt system that provides 45 percent of the electricity. State politicians couldn't ask for a better photo op.

Check out more [from Greentech Media] in the video.

Greentech Media Video: Generating Heat From Thin Air

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