The Buck Institute prepares to go geothermal as construction remains on target for March 2012 opening of new research building.

Geothermal Coming to the Buck
Construction of New Research Building Prompts New Look at Energy Program

GeothermalThe Buck Institute is going geothermal – using the nearly constant temperature underground to heat buildings in the winter and cool them in the summer.   The system, which pumps heat to or from the ground will be utilized throughout the Buck campus.  The program will allow the institute to cut $436,000 per year from its energy bills, will save more than 18,000 gallons of water a day and reduce the institute’s annual carbon footprint by 53 percent.

Installation of the geothermal field, which will consist of approximately 327 holes dug 400 feet into the earth, will begin late this spring and be located about mid-way between the institute’s administrative building and its entrance on Redwood Blvd.

“Geothermal heat exchange is considered new technology,” said Ralph O’Rear, Buck Institute Vice President of Facilities, “But it’s not unfamiliar in Marin County.  Lucasfilms uses geothermal, so does the Indian Valley Campus of the College of Marin."

The construction of the institute’s new regenerative research building coupled with rising power bills presented a huge challenge to O’Rear. Even though the Buck has participated in several PG & E-sponsored energy-conserving programs (saving more than $425,000 since 1999) O’Rear said it was obvious that bringing the new 65,708 square foot structure online would push energy costs to untenable levels and would not be in keeping with the Buck’s commitment to support environmentally sound or “green” technology.  The building, which will house 12 new laboratories, will add 300 tons of additional cooling.

The Board of Trustees approved the $4 million geothermal project this past March. “We looked at six different options – including solar, wind and the use of fuel cells – and geothermal gave us the highest return on investment,” said M. Arthur Gensler, Jr.,  Board Member and Chair of the Buck’s Construction Committee. “With geothermal, our energy costs will be below current levels even after the new building is occupied. In addition, geothermal has no visual impact on the campus and will serve us well as we look toward building out our entire campus, which will involve the construction of two more research buildings.”

In addition to the new building, geothermal technology will be utilized in the institute’s existing administration and research buildings, allowing for the dismantling of evaporative cooling towers that currently sit on rooftops.  “Forty percent of all water in California is lost to evaporation,” said O’Rear. “The water savings that come from this technology will reduce or eliminate the need for chemical water treatment and will help us stay within the limits of local water use restrictions. Most importantly, it should help us avoid putting in new sewer lines as we expand our campus.”

Geothermal is expected to be a big hit among environmentally-conscious Buck employees and supporters.  The carbon reduction associated with the project is equivalent to taking 9,738 cars off the road.

Construction on target for March 2012 opening of new research building

Workers are nearing completion of the exterior shell of the new regenerative research building.  By June, the $41 million structure should look like a completed building from the outside.  If timing is right, visitors coming to the Institute in May might be able to watch 42 large stone and cement panels or “tiles” being attached to the exterior.  The tiles – measuring approximately 20’ by 22’ – are being poured in Sacramento and will arrive at the Buck on flat bed trucks and be affixed to the building via large clips.  The tiles will be 8” thick, including a 2” veneer of stone that comes from a quarry in Idaho.  The limestone travertine was picked to match the travertine on the existing Buck buildings. The original travertine, which was installed in 1999 came from Italy.  Fortunately the Idaho stone was a great match --- transporting the stone from the Mediterranean would be cost prohibitive and environmentally unsound.

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