ARCHIVED - Wanted: Clean, Quiet Space to Work

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January 05, 2005— Ottawa, Ontario

Hydrogen technology environmental chamber at the NRC-IFCI. From left to right: Chris Curtis, Vice-President of Fuel Cells Canada; the Honourable Stephen Owen; Maja Veljkovic, Director General of NRC-IFCI. Photo courtesy of Nigel Fitzpatrick.
Hydrogen technology environmental chamber at the NRC-IFCI. From left to right: Chris Curtis, Vice-President of Fuel Cells Canada; the Honourable Stephen Owen; Maja Veljkovic, Director General of NRC-IFCI. Photo courtesy of Nigel Fitzpatrick.

NRC is currently in the midst of building several new key research facilities and, in the process, will be creating some significant firsts for Canada.

For example, in the case of the Edmonton-based NRC National Institute for Nanotechnology (NINT), the challenge for architects has been to design a building that is extremely quiet; hint, this does not mean adding more sound insulation. In Vancouver, the new building designed for the NRC Institute for Fuel Cell Innovation (NRC-IFCI) will incorporate a number of clean technologies for generating energy. In the end, the building will be both green and function as a demonstration centre for new hydrogen-based technologies.

New facilities such as these also represent a powerful addition to technology clusters current developing and growing in both cities. They represent new infrastructure, will attract world-class talent and will provide a focal point in their respective communities.

NINT building in Edmonton being constructed
NINT building in Edmonton being constructed

NINT – Edmonton

The new NINT building in Edmonton is scheduled for completion in late in 2005. At present, with the shell of the building being constructed, it can be hard to see what will make this a quiet place.

Quiet space is paramount when you work at the nanoscale. A nanometre is about 1/80,000 the diameter of a human hair, or ten times the diameter of a hydrogen atom. When scientists talk about quiet space, this involves eliminating any factors that could have an impact on experiments and testing where there is literally no margin for error. Making a building quiet means creating a space with ultra-low vibration and minimal acoustical noise or electro-magnetic interference and constant temperature and humidity. As an example, consider the standards used for another nanotech research facility being built, in this case for the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Measures. Inside temperatures had to be kept to within 1/100th of a degree C. and vibration had to be controlled to 100 micro in. per second.

Steps taken to ensure the new building will achieve its quietness design objectives within budget primarily focused on the design stage where problems can be fixed by updating a drawing. These include:

  • Electromagnetic and vibration site surveys prior to design to identify "sweet-spots" with particularly low EM and vibration and any existing site problems (these included an out-of-balance fan in a building 80 metres away and various electrical ground loops in abandoned conduits).
  • Designing the building as two structures – the main multi-storey building with increased rigidity compared to conventional structures and an attached single-storey building that will house a limited number of experiments;
  • Extensive computer-aided engineering studies of vibration and EM of the building design;
  • Use of "building within a building" layouts for areas requiring ultra-stable temperature, humidity and pressure to minimize airflow, save energy and keep operating costs down; and
  • In-situ construction and vibration testing of three concrete slab designs that will be used for mounting ultra-sensitive equipment.

Such exacting standards are necessary so that the specialized laboratory equipment used in nanotechnology can run at its full limits. NINT recently announced the purchase of a one-of-a-kind transmission electron microscope (TEM), which will be added to a suite of equipment worth over $40-million.

NRC-IFCI – Vancouver

Scheduled to open in 2006, NRC-IFCI's new building in Vancouver will be a node along Canada's Hydrogen Highway™. As such, the building has been designed from the outset to showcase the following Canadian environmental technologies. The first of these technologies, using solar power to create hydrogen, has already been completed. The following is a list of the specific technologies to be put in place.

  • Photovoltaic hydrogen source for back-up power fuel cell system: A photovoltaic array will capture energy from sunlight to power an electrolyzer that will produce and store hydrogen for a PEM fuel cell emergency backup power system. The electrolyzer will be provided by Hydrogenics of Mississauga, ON. Photovoltaics are being designed and installed by the British Columbia Institute of Technology

  • A Ground Source Heat Pump: This long-proven natural-source heating and cooling technology will be powered by a Solid Oxide Fuel Cell to provide climate control for the new NRC-IFCI's atrium and galleria. It is being designed by Keen Engineering of North Vancouver, BC.

  • 5 KW Solid Oxide Fuel Cell System: Fuelled by natural gas and in the future, from biomass, the fuel cell will also produce approximately 8 kW of waste heat, which will be captured and used to supply heat for the building. The Solid Oxide Fuel Cell will be supplied by Fuel Cell Technologies of Kingston, ON.

  • LEED Building certification: Attaining LEED "green building" certification is considered an important complement to the plans for the new NRC-IFCI, because it will provide respected third-party verification of government's commitment to efficient building design and construction. Project architects Bunting Coady of Vancouver, BC believe the new building has strong potential to earn gold LEED certification.

Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada

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