New water plan saves big money

By on December 5, 2013
A worker welds pipes together for the new central cooling plants designed by UAB's Energy Management. The department was able to accomplish its research design and sonstruction of the steam plant in five years. (UAB News Service)

UAB has come up with a novel way to save the university tens of thousands of dollars and millions of gallons of water.

The Facilities Division created a network of tanks and piping that captures and uses ground water and condensate (liquid formed by condensation) from cooling systems.

“There’s no magic to it,” said Matt Winslett, engineering manager in the Department of Energy Management. “It’s brutally simple.”

That simple idea, however, is adding up. Savings of about 3 million gallons of water and $13,000 a month was experienced during the summer. From January 2012 through September 2013, 16.9 million gallons of condensate and 15.2 million gallons of ground water were captured, which is a university savings of more than $138,000.

“Energy Management is a leader at UAB in developing novel ways to make our campus more sustainable,” said Julie Price, Ph.D., coordinator of sustainability.

The work of UAB Energy Management has been featured this year in both Facilities Manager and District Energy magazines.

UAB has three central cooling plants along with multiple cooling towers that are linked via a network of underground piping. The heat is removed from the water through an evaporative process that occurs within the plant’s cooling towers. The water is then piped into buildings on campus and used for air conditioning.

After being used, the then warmer water leaves the buildings at about 55 degrees Fahrenheit and creates condensate that forms on the air handler coils.
Previously, this water had been collected and discarded into a nearby storm drain.

That water is now collected, filtered, cleaned and pumped into the cooling tower through the chilled water return line, reducing the makeup water that must be purchased

“No one else is doing it to this scale,” Winslett said.

“There are other organizations that recycle condensate and use it to water gardens and for irrigation, but nothing like what is being done at UAB.”

In addition to condensate, the facilities crew also discovered buildings that are a source for ground water.

Winslett and his team now collect that water.

“What was a liability is now an asset,” Winslett said.

So far, seven buildings have been outfitted for condensate collection and two for gathering ground water. There are plans to add the system to a new dorm, and it is being considered for the coming student center.

Both systems require very little maintenance. With system costs of $30,000 to $50,000, depending on the size of the building and system type, condensate return systems offer an average three-year payback. So far, the ground water systems are paying back in less than one year.

Ultimately, the goal is to recapture 25 to 30 percent of the water being purchased. UAB is exploring the feasibility of a patent so others can model the system.

“We are doing some of the neatest things anywhere in water recovery,” Winslett said. “It speaks volumes as a university that they support this effort.”

In the winter, when the condensate goes away, the water tanks are cleaned, and filters are changed.

UAB News Service

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