Emory WMB Lab Building: Designing Mechanical Systems With a Goal of Net Zero in Mind

Tom McGee, Konvekta USA Inc.
Christopher Fox, Emory University

Designing mechanical systems to meet the needs of lab buildings includes many challenges, including maintaining or improving the resiliency, maximizing system efficiency in support of climate goals and developing an overall system design within the constraints of available financial resources. This presentation highlights the operational, energy and financial outcomes of a high-performance energy recovery design for the Emory University Woodruff Memorial Research Building (WMB). A specific focus of the design was to transition away from natural gas as fuel source for heating needs, a critical element of achieving the institutions of NET zero by 2050. The WMB facility was opened in 1986 with multiple vivariums housing a total of 8,000 mice and 285 rats, and includes 12 BSL1 rooms, four BSL1 rooms, and two BSL2 rooms.

The goal of achieving a net zero lab building design in the SE region of the U.S., is especially challenging given the high levels of cooling and dehumidification demands. In the short term, the design maximizes energy efficiency, providing 94 percent of the make-up air winter heating and 46 percent of the summer cooling and reheat energy needs via energy recovery. Over the long term, as the electric grid transitions to renewables, the WMB design provides the possibility of a net zero future by eliminating the requirement for natural gas as fuel source, with the utilization of heat pump technology to generate the necessary heat rather than the existing campus central plant boilers.

Learning Objectives

  • Learn how it is possible to create the basis for carbon neutrality in the future, by eliminating natural gas as a fuel source in heating lab space;
  • Learn when a high-performance energy recovery system design can result in lower initial capital costs;
  • Learn how to optimize an energy recovery system using adiabatic cooling of the exhaust in regions requiring dehumidification; and
  • Learn the essential factors in designing an exhaust coil frost/defrost cycle into an energy recovery strategy to maximize winter latent energy recovery.


Tom McGee is an Account Manager for Konvekta USA, where his focus is the design and optimization of high performance energy recovery systems. He was previously the Energy Manager at the University of Denver for 9 years, where his responsibilities included all aspects of HVAC infrastructure and energy efficiency. He holds a BS from SIU-C.

Christopher Fox is a member of the Emory University Engineering Services team. As the mechanical engineering expert, he provides internal consulting for all engineering aspects of capital projects and serves as a subject matter expert for all campus infrastructure and utility systems and facilities management trade shops. Chris is a licensed PE.


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