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Sustainable Plant Growth Chambers

Cornell’s 150 plant growth chambers managed by CUAES provide protected environments for smart, innovative research. They range in size from 6 to 108 square feet and offer finely tuned light, temperature, and – in some cases – humidity and carbon dioxide controls. Creating the exacting and reproducible conditions needed for some research is energy intensive, but CUAES is charting the way to reduce the chambers’ carbon footprint.

Growth Chamber Prototype Saves 85%

ChamberThe growth chamber prototype, developed by growth chamber staff* at CUAES, cuts cost and energy consumption by 85% compared to conventional models of the same size. The outstanding versatility and reliability of the prototype creates a superior environment for valuable research projects.

The chamber taps into the building’s hot and cold water supplies, and only sips the exact amounts needed to precisely regulate the chamber temperature, eliminating the need for heating and refrigeration units. The overall streamlined engineering and design of the system drastically increases the reliability and durability, cutting down on cost for labor and parts. Digital controls provide fully automated climate control.

The 85% savings were calculated for a chamber with an interior space of 10 square feet. But the technology can easily be scaled for chambers of different sizes, and savings (in percent) will increase even more with larger chambers.

*Inventors: Bob Wilson, Marc Daly, Nick Van Eck, Andrew Leed

CUAES Growth Chamber Prototype Poster (pdf)

Growth Chamber Retrofits

Growth Chamber RetrifutsThe CUAES growth chamber team monitored the consumption of all 130+ chambers, identifying hopelessly antiquated chambers for demolition while choosing 22 inefficient chambers for a broad retrofit.

As part of the retrofit old-style T-12 fluorescent lights are being replaced with slender T-5 fluorescent tubes, which increase the light output by 14%, while slashing energy use. T-5s provide 4 times the light per watt. In addition, the new lights only need relamping every two to three years, compared to the T-12s, which had to be replaced every year.

Retrofitted chambers also receive new digital controls, replacing the oversized, inefficient analog controls. This saves power and eliminates not only antiquated vacuum tubes, transformers, capacitors and their potentially toxic components, but also the need for chronic maintenance.

The savings of the retrofits are impressive: 54% energy savings with a concurrent yearly reduction in CO2 emissions by 447 metric tons.

This project is a joint effort of the office of Contract College Facilities, the Office of Energy Management, Facilities Engineering, Cornell HVAC/R Shop and the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station and is supported by a grant from NYSERDA.

Promoting Sustainable Practices

The greenhouses and growth chambers routinely house more than 400 research projects. Most projects involve extension associates, grad students, faculty researchers and greenhouse staff. How does CUAES foster sustainability awareness among the hundreds of people associated with these projects?

The growth chamber crew, for example, posted signs on each chamber, listing the energy consumption and cost of the unit when running and idling. Users see the impressive savings that accrue when temporarily unused chambers are being shutdown and are now requesting shut-offs faster and more frequently than ever before.