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©2017 This excerpt taken from the article of the same name which appeared in ASHRAE Journal, vol. 59, no. 8, August 2017

By John McDonald, Member ASHRAE

About the Author
John McDonald, P.E., is a principal at Integral Group in Oakland, Calif.

The J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) is a not-for-profit research institute dedicated to the advancement of the science of genomics, the understanding of its implications for society, and communication of those results to the scientific community, the public, and policymakers. Founded by J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., the Venter Institute is home to over 200 scientists and other professionals with expertise in human and evolutionary biology, genetics, microbial physiology and ecology, bioinformatics, information technology, DNA sequencing, genomic and environmental policy research, science policy, and science education.


The Vision

The project goals were summarized in these quotes from Dr. Venter: “To create a building that embodies the philosophies of JCVI’s science, that is, the desire to change the way our society procures and consumes energy,” and, to “create the most sustainable laboratory building in the world.” To this end, the specific project goals included:

  • Zero net energy (ZNE) operation: Generate sufficient energy on site to cover the annual electrical energy consumed;
  • Carbon neutral: Annual operations on a carbon neutral basis without “buying” carbon offsets;
  • Domestic water: Reduce domestic water demand by 50% and capture 100% of the rainwater on site;
  • Working environment: Superior interior environmental quality;
  • LEED Platinum Certification: Based on LEED v2009 New Construction (NC); and

Construction cost: Costs on $/ft2 basis similar to other biological research facilities.


The Building

Located on 2 acres (0.8 ha) of land leased from the University of California, San Diego, the facility is 44,600 ft2 (4143 m2) with parking for 112 cars below the building, creating an environment for 125 researchers and staff. Site limitations required the parking to be partially below grade, creating a podium on which the upper floors of the building are set. Partially open on all four sides, the garage is naturally ventilated.

The north wing is a three-story structure containing offices and computational research on the first and second floors and conference rooms and dining on the third floor. The roof area is covered in photovoltaic (PV) panels. The south wing is a single occupied floor for the wet bench biology labs and loading dock. The attic space created by the sloped roof houses the central mechanical systems and lab distribution. The south wing’s roof is also covered in PV panels, extending westward to cover a portion of the podium terrace. The north and south wings frame a courtyard space that is sheltered by the overhead PV array and provides a connection between the two wings, as well as a wonderful gathering space.


Energy Efficiency

Starting with the typical energy distribution for a wet biology lab from the I2SL database, we determined that we would either need four times the roof area for PV or drastically reduce the energy needed. The building orientation, southern overhang, and partially-enclosed courtyard decreased the estimated energy consumption by 7%.

The building uses the most efficient source of cooling available at the time, ranging from thermal energy storage (TES), to cooling tower, to chiller based conditioning, which is a different approach (Figure 1). Unlike buildings that use electricity for cooling, rejecting building heat into the atmosphere, and later burning gas at night for heat generation, this project uses a 50,000 gallon (189 271 L) TES system as the primary conditioning driver.


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