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Sat 9 Oct 2010 04:00 AM

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Industrial buildings can also be green

Dubai’s first large-scale solar thermal cooling system is now in operation at ESAB’s new head office in JAFZA. Gerhard Hope paid a visit to see first-hand how this industrial building is at the vanguard of energy efficiency.

Industrial buildings can also be green
Johan Fransson.
Industrial buildings can also be green
Industrial buildings can also be green
The air handling units on the roof of the building only had to work at 45% of their capacity, even during the peak of the summer heat, a reflection of the system’s efficiency.

Dubai’s first large-scale solar thermal cooling system is now
in operation at ESAB’s new head office in JAFZA.Gerhard Hope paid a visit to see
first-hand how this industrial building is at the vanguard of energy efficiency.

The achievements of ESAB’s new HQ were highlighted initially
when Architect Middle East named it as one of the region’s top five green buildings.
Thomas Bohlen, chief technical officer at the Middle East Centre for Sustainable
Development, said at the time: “This project has proven that even industrial buildings
in the Middle East can be designed, constructed
and operated to the highest current standards
of sustainability.”

Pax-Kent International of Dubai was the architect, consultants
and project manager for the US $6.5 million project. The AC system, at a cost of
US $1 million was installed by Kylsystem of Sweden with Kingspan renewables of Ireland as supplier
of 300 m2 of solar vacuum tubes, with Climatewell of Sweden providing the absorption
units for the solar cooling system.

“The benefits of this system are considerable, as there is up
to 65% to 70% saving on the energy costs compared to traditional air-con systems.
Plus it is creates a better environment, as a result of reduced CO2 emissions,”
says Kingspan Renewables MD Gerard Whelan.

Kingspan Renewables has, with this installation,
proven its position as a leader in solar thermal collectors. This is a stepping
stone towards massive global growth for solar cooling.” Whelan adds that the Thermomax
system is the highest-performing evacuated system in the world.

Pax-Kent International LLC joint president Kent Johansson explains
that the building’s solar thermal cooling system uses roof-mounted solar tube collectors
to provide hot water to six absorption units. These, in turn, provide cold water
to air-handling units, also located on the roof. Cold air is then circulated through
the precast, hollow-core concrete ceiling slabs of the building, providing radiant
cooling in addition to fresh air.

Benefits

The added benefit of the system is that it uses far less electricity,
only a few pumps,  and no refrigerants. Any
excess heat can, in turn, be used for domestic water heating. The unique storage
capability of this particular system allows it to service the building comfortably
even during the night and in inclement weather.

“We have more than enough points for LEED Platinum, and are hoping
to attain this certification,” says Johansson. Indeed, the building has achieved
56 points out of a maximum of 69 (52 points are required for LEED Platinum.) It
was impossible to achieve the total number, as certain criteria, such as building
on old sites, were not applicable in this case. As an indication of the attention
to detail in this project, Johansson says there are power points for electric vehicles,
priority parking for employees using hybrid vehicles and bicycle racks. Even the
paving stones used in the parking lot, from a RAK manufacturer, have special hollows
to retain rainwater in Dubai’s
brief yearly rainy spells.

However, Johansson says not many companies are prepared to go
all the way to LEED Platinum. “A lot of companies here still do the bare minimum
of 32 points, which is actually the base JAFZA requirement. They do not want to
do anything else extra in order to save resources and cut energy use, often due
to budgetary constraints.”

ESAB Middle East FZE MD Johan Fransson says the new head office
became fully operational in May 2010. “Back in 2006 we started to evaluate the specific
requirements. A feasibility study and business case study were completed in 2007.
We finally got the green light in 2008, so it was a long process.

Green issues

“Green issues and health and safety are not high on our agenda;
they are at the top of our agenda,” says Fransson. “Hence from the outset of this
project we had very ambitious ideas and targets. From the beginning, it was a conscious
decision that we should go as green as we could.” Then came the January 2008 decree
from Dubai ruler HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum that all buildings be
green, which gave the project added relevance and impetus.

“Today, of course, carbon footprint reduction and such concepts
are very much at the forefront. We have been working with these concepts for many
years as a group, ranging from what kind of materials we are using in our products,
to the energy consumption in our factories and the associated targets for energy
reduction. It is the right thing to do; it is profitable; it has long-term benefits;
it is good for our people and our customers. Hence it is very much embedded in our
culture and in our values,” says Fransson.

He says ESAB has adopted a deliberately low-key approach to publicising
its new head office. “Actually what we have been doing is trying to fly a little
bit under the radar because we want to make sure everything is working properly
first. We are happy though to share our positive experience and are proud to do
so.” Fransson says that for “a pretty hi-tech facility”, the project “has gone incredibly
well. There have been small bits and pieces, but we are tweaking constantly. We
have been operational from day one. People are very excited, and our partners are
very excited too.”

Fransson explains that the new building is the regional head
office for ESAB, catering for 14 countries in the Middle East.
“We also have a welding and cutting process centre, where we do training and product
demonstrations, which is another reason why we wanted a purpose-built facility.

Support

“We wanted a new building to support our activities in the same
way we like to support our customers. We wanted to have a really efficient warehouse
for our supply chain, in addition to a technical process and training centre. When
we took the decision to build, we wanted to do it the right way from the start.”
Fransson says the new Dubai
head office has also essentially raised the benchmark for the entire group in terms
of sustainability and energy efficiency.

Johansson says the ESAB head office represents the latest evolution
of a building type that Pax-Kent designed since years back for a range of clients,
from Jotun Paints, Unilever and Master Foods. “Perhaps because these are US and
European based companies, they have the background and willingness to invest, so
we have always been lucky to have clients like that.”

Fransson adds that ESAB’s head office represents a logical design
and application of technology for industrial-type buildings. “To not build like
this does not really make any sense. Why would you not want to insulate a facility
properly? Why would you not choose technological solutions that allow you to reduce
energy consumption? We were lucky in finding a partner like Pax-Kent that could
support our work.”

Johansson says that, while Pax-Kent had tackled green build as
far back as the 1990s, “it never caught on, as you never had the rules and regulations
that forced you to do things; and these are quite moderate still. You can get away
with 32 points at the end of the day. It was an interesting challenge for us, because
nobody here knew much about LEED, especially the top end.”

One of the immediate difficulties was finding local suppliers.
“Sustainability at that time was not really common business practice, and hence
it took more time than we thought.”

Swedish cutting-edge

Fransson says the ESAB head office represents the cutting-edge
of Swedish green building technology. “We have Swedish management here locally;
our architect is Swedish; the main contractor is Swedish. All the technical solutions
are actually Swedish. So it is very much a showcase for Sweden, which probably
conserves more energy than any other country. It experienced its first energy crisis
in 1972, and since then the per capita energy consumption has hardly increased.”

The most prominent innovation deployed in the building is the
solar thermal cooling system. “This is new technology,” says Johansson. “We cut
the heat peak in the middle of the day, so we flatten the curve and therefore our
energy use is reduced.” Blowing cold air through ducts in the concrete slabs essentially
cools down the entire building. “The coolness, especially at night when the temperature
is lower, is accumulated, and you use that during the day when the temperature is
higher, which means the total cooling system is much smaller as a result. On top
of that, it is very quiet and makes for a pleasant indoor climate.

We do not have temperature fluctuations; between the corners
of a typical room you will only have half a degree’s difference. The secret lies
in being able to calculate the air flow that is required, which takes quite a bit
of experience to do when you are blowing air through ducts in a concrete slab,”
says Johansson.

The ducts in the concrete slabs also means “you get fresh air
every 1.2 m by default as you pump air through these hollow cores,” says Johansson.
“We are changing the internal air six times an hour, which means a high indoor air
quality, without any extra cost.” Fransson says the initial estimates point to a
70% energy-saving over conventional air-con systems. “This is a pretty amazing number.
In terms of payback, it is about five years, give or take a year. However, that
was not the main driver. That it actually makes good financial sense to do so is
over and above it being the right thing to do.”

Extra insulation

Johansson says additional features include extra insulation in
the roof and external walls. “Normally what you see here is insulated blockwork.
On the roof we went for 200 mm polystyrene, and 100 mm polystyrene in the walls,
which is far more than normal.” Fransson says all the traditional building elements
“are the best you can find.” The building also has a wastewater treatment plant.
“We recycle and treat all the water for use in the toilets and for the irrigation
system,” says Johansson.

In terms of lighting, Johansson says the building employs a fully-automated
system. “Lights come on wherever you are walking. We have reduced the overhead light,
and have task lights for all the cubicles and desks. Hence you focus the light only
where it is needed, as well as having low overall lighting intensity. The light
level is also programmed to be reduced the further away it is from the windows.
Thus it starts low at the windows and increases the further you go into the building.”

Fransson says that initial tests conducted on the air-handling
units have revealed that, even at the peak of the summer heat, they only worked
at 45%. “Hence the overall system is very efficient. If we get a power cut now,
this will still be a comfortable building tomorrow morning, as the entire structure
is cooled down.”

In terms of maintenance, the attention paid to the detail of
the building and the systems it uses means that maintenance costs and times are
reduced as well. This is important in Dubai,
where “maintenance is only done when something breaks down; here you seldom do anything
to prevent it,” says Johansson. However, Fransson says “the approach we have taken
is maybe more maintenance than what is required; rather too much than too little.
Over time we will scale this down as we become more familiar with the building and
its systems. We want to ensure that we do not break anything while we are getting
to know the building.”

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