If you are looking for EIA UK, it's overhere.

Keeping Campus Cool – Cornell’s Lake Source Cooling as a Climate-Friendly Model for Universities

Guest blog by EIA Summer Climate Intern Chandler Sachs, Cornell University

As countries negotiate a global phasedown of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) under the Montreal Protocol, institutions and companies are increasingly looking for climate-friendly cooling to aid global efforts to stay under the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C goal.

Developing a long-term solution to its cooling needs, Cornell University harnesses the naturally cold water of Cayuga Lake in order to save money, time, energy, and the climate. Beginning its operation in 2000, Cornell’s Lake Source Cooling (LSC) plant revolutionized university sustainability with its use of “not-in-kind” cooling technology on a grand scale. A “not-in-kind” cooling technology is any system that breaks with conventional technology reliant on gaseous refrigerants used in the vapor compression cycle. Cornell chose to leapfrog transitional super greenhouse gases and implement a cutting-edge and climate-friendly technology.

Cornell’s Cool Investment

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, most institutions, including Cornell, used CFC chillers. These first-generation Ozone-Depleting Substances (ODSs) were destroying the ozone layer and warming the climate. When the university had to phase out its aging CFC chillers due to unreliability and CFC bans under the Montreal Protocol, researchers and engineers looked down the campus slopes towards the cold and deep waters of Cayuga Lake.

Though there were certain manmade chemicals that could have served as replacements in their installed chillers, the newly-patented gases also ate away at the ozone layer and warmed the climate, serving as inefficient transitional chemicals. So, taking into account sustainability in its growth strategy and climate-friendly technology adoption, Cornell designed and built the United States’ first major deep water cooling system. Though construction of the plant cost $20 million more than replacing existing chillers, the Lake Source Cooling (LSC) plant has a 100 year expected lifespan – significantly longer than conventional chillers. Additionally, the plant uses 86 percent less energy, equivalent to 25,000,000 kWh/year. In other words, the energy saving equates to 856 pounds of coal burned yearly for every Cornell student, professor, and worker.

The energy efficiency increases alone represent a yearly savings of approximately $4.1 million. After roughly five years, this yearly savings covered the difference in upfront costs between conventional chillers and the deep water cooling system, demonstrating the sustainability of this investment in addressing goals of a carbon neutral future and the university’s role as a catalyst in energy-use innovation.

How does it work?

The Lake Source Cooling plant works much like its name suggests. The system uses two closed loops of water, pumping the naturally cold water from deep in the lake to the plant. The heat exchanger then uses the natural thermodynamic process of heat transfer to “transfer the cool” to the loop of water returning to campus, providing the necessary chilling power required by the dormitories, libraries, dining halls, and research labs. This passive technology relies on simple physical properties, gravity, and thermodynamic transfer, while only using pumping power to get the chilled water back up the slope. This simplicity allows the system to operate autonomously while electronically accounting for the yearly cycle in chilling needs.

Source: Cornell University – Infrastructure Properties and Planning

While understanding the major investment and impact that a project of this scale would take, Cornell included the community in the design and planning of the plant, incorporating local businesses and citizens when making its decision. Additionally, the university feeds its excess cooling capacity to the local community.

A model for other institutions?

While using Cornell as a prime example of cooling innovation, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) provides all considerations that a system like Cornell’s must consider; including questions such as whether the institution is “located within a few miles of a deep lake or cold ocean currents” and if it will need “to replace refrigerant chillers” or “build or expand a district cooling [system].”

Source: University of Vermont – University Medical Center

One institution where this model could work is the University of Vermont; the university’s location on Lake Champlain, onshore approximately 2-3 miles from the deepest parts of the lake, represents an opportunity to implement climate-friendly cooling technology. Additionally, the environmental goals set out by the university, as well as the city of Burlington’s commitment to progressive environmental standards, create an opportunity for the implementation of a system similar to the LSC plant. Similar to the University of Vermont's key location next to Lake Champlain, NREL advises institutions along the Great Lakes to consider these technologies as well, as the Great Lakes have “some of the deepest and coldest fresh water lakes in the world.”

Source: NOAA – Chart US5VT02M

Take away: As universities and other institutions consider updating their cooling systems, the environmental, economic, and energy efficiency benefits provided by not-in-kind cooling technologies, such as deep water cooling, offer a sustainable alternative to conventional cooling systems using chemicals with high global warming potentials, providing a long-term solution.

View all Blog Posts

Recent Blog Posts

Unkept Promises: Chemours Newest Targets Miss the Mark
04/16/2021
Following EIA’s call to cease irresponsible operations and subsequent mounting press pressure, the American chemical giant, the Chemours company released a new statement on their climate goals yesterday.
Major Climate Win: Lessons for the Montreal Protocol
02/10/2021
Two new papers published in Nature suggest that the CFC-11 emissions are back on a downward trajectory potentially avoiding substantial delays in the recovery of the ozone layer. The papers show an accelerated decline in global atmospheric concentrations of CFC-11 from 2018 to 2019, and attribute 60% of the decline to China. This is a huge win for the ozone layer and our climate, which would not have been possible without a concerted global response to the findings from the ground and the atmosphere.

Recent Reports

On Thin Ice
11/17/2021
On Thin Ice: How the NHL is Cheating the Climate
EIA briefing to OEWG43: Unexpected CFC-11 emissions
07/09/2021
Briefing to the 43rd Meeting of the Open-ended Working Group of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol (OEWG 43)

Recent Press Releases

On Thin Ice
11/17/2021
An EIA investigation has uncovered deeply troubling information that the National Hockey League (NHL) agreed to accept millions of dollars from the Chemours Company (Chemours) to promote their HFC products as environmentally sustainable under the NHL Green program in ice rinks and beyond.
EPA Grants Petitions to Transition Technologies Away from HFCs
10/08/2021
Today the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) responded to a series of petitions requesting certain sectors be required to transition away from using most hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in newly manufactured products. EPA granted or partially granted multiple petitions, including the petition submitted by EIA that calls on EPA to replicate HFC regulations recently finalized in California. Other petitions submitted by the California Air Resources Board and other states, and the International Institute for Ammonia Refrigeration call for a similar approach.

Recent Videos

On Thin Ice: How the NHL is Cheating the Climate
11/17/2021
Video evidence captured by EIA investigators reveals that the NHL agreed to accept millions of dollars from the Chemours Company to promote their HFC products as “environmentally sustainable” under the NHL Green program in ice rinks and beyond.
Leaking Havoc: Exposing Your Supermarket’s Invisible Climate Pollution
02/15/2021
An EIA investigation into dozens of supermarkets in the greater Washington, D.C. area, including Virginia and Maryland, found a majority of stores to be leaking super-pollutant hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants
What are the HFC-free Technologies?
Widespread adoption of HFC-free technologies is cost-effective, energy efficient, and climate-friendly. Read EIA’s report Putting the Freeze on HFCs for hundreds of examples of HFC-free technologies available and in use today.
A Global HFC Phase-down
The October 2016 Montreal Protocol meeting in Kigali, Rwanda yielded a global agreement to phase down HFCs. Now countries must ratify and implement the Kigali Amendment! Read and share EIA's briefing on this great opportunity and obligation to avert climate catastrophe.
Help us mitigate climate destroying gases
Where are HFCs used?
What are HFCs?
How to Recycle Your Fridge