Northwestern University SQBRC Case Study: Getting Away From Campus Steam

Mike Broge, Affiliated Engineers, Inc.
Adana Johns, Perkins+Will, Inc.

For the last several decades, Northwestern University's downtown Chicago medical research campus and hospital have been supported by an increasingly inefficient campus high pressure steam production and distribution system. Converted from coal-fired to natural gas long ago, the production facility had a substantial reduction in efficiency when Northwestern Memorial Hospital constructed an independent energy plant.

In 2014, the integrated project team for the new Louis A. Simpson and Kimberly K. Querrey Biomedical Research Center (SQBRC) began to evaluate solutions aligned with NU's high performance energy and water goals. They confirmed the viability of dry heat sterilization and point-of-use steam generators, low pressure steam cage wash, low temperature hot water heating, and atomizing humidification as applicable technologies to reduce and reframe steam needs. These technologies allowed use of a low temperature hot water/low pressure steam utility system. NU and the team recognized that these steps could also increase thermal efficiencies for the existing adjacent 425,000 square foot Lurie Research Building (LRB), and allow for plant staffing adjustments. Thus, the new SQBRC plant will also support the LRB, further reducing HPS production needs and better positioning NU to retire aging and inefficient infrastructure in the future.

The SQBRC plant includes high efficiency condensing boilers to provide low temperature hot water for SQBRC heating applications. It eliminates existing steam-to-glycol/hot water heat exchanges in LRB serving existing preheat coils. High-efficiency low-pressure steam boilers are planned to support LRB reheat (180oF hot water) and domestic hot water applications, and high-efficiency low-pressure clean steam boilers are being provided to eliminate existing clean steam heat exchangers serving LRB humidification applications. This combination of strategies significantly improves overall boiler efficiencies, increases opportunity for heat recovery chillers that produce low temperature hot water, and dramatically reduces steam distribution losses from the aging centralized system. Further energy and water impacts attributable to this integrated scale-jumping approach have been identified as well.

The two-phase, 1.2M square foot, 30+ story SQBRC tower represents a path to a new culture of cost-saving utility support for high performance research facilities. NU expects to complete its elimination of HPS by introducing several strategically located low pressure steam plants combined with the conversion of existing high pressure steam equipment to low pressure steam or point of use high pressure process steam generation, subsequent to the SQBRC.

Learning Objectives

  • Design influences in a dense urban area and the desire to maximize the project area to reduce operational costs and provide a most sustainable building in comparison to traditional research campus design.
  • Life cycle cost analysis methodology used to examine the best approach to thermal heat generation systems in new medical research buildings.
  • Understanding operational and energy cost savings differences between High Pressure Steam and Hot Water System generation and distribution.
  • Identifying Lab Equipment as significant points of energy consumption, and alternatives to utilizing high pressure steam sterilization equipment


AEI Principal Michael Broge, PE, LEED AP, is a project manager and Market Leader in both AEI's Science & Technology and Higher Education groups, specializing in medical science, nanotechnology, bioresearch, and other complex research facility types. A leading contributor of energy-efficiency strategies and technologies for functionally intensive project, Mr. Broge frequently shares his expertise through speaking engagements with Tradeline, SCUP, IFMA, and ASHRAE.

Adana Johns is the Perkins+Will Chicago office Science + Technology leader and project manager, currently working on the Northwestern University Biomedical Research Center. Adana has practiced in a variety of markets from a management, planning, technical, and sustainable design perspective; collaborating on teams for projects in practice areas including Higher Education, Government, Municipal, Industrial, and Commercial. Adana is the board vice president of the growing I2SL Windy City Chapter.


Note: I2SL did not edit or revise abstract or biography text. Abstracts and biographies are displayed as submitted by the author(s).