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Virginia Tech partner in 'Energy Innovation Hub' to pioneer energy-efficient building designs

BLACKSBURG, Va., Aug. 31, 2010 – Virginia Tech's Interdisciplinary Center for Applied Mathematics is a partner in the $122 million U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Energy Innovation Hub to develop technologies to make buildings more energy efficient. 

The project is led by Pennsylvania State University.

The Energy Innovation Hub will be located at the Philadelphia Navy Yard Clean Energy campus, and will bring together 11 academic institutions – including Virginia Tech, two DOE laboratories, five industry partners, regional economic development agencies, and community colleges to develop building designs that will save energy, cut pollution, and position the United States as a leader in this industry.

 “The Energy Innovation Hub represents a significant federal investment in Virginia Tech, with more than $5 million in federal funds flowing into the university over the next five years as a result of the partnership,” said Rep. Rick Boucher. "With this funding, Virginia Tech will undertake cutting-edge research that will help create new energy efficient building technologies. Virginia Tech has long been a leader in energy technology development, and I am pleased that the U.S. Department of Energy has acknowledged this fact by investing in the Energy Innovation Hub partnership,” Boucher said.

“I strongly urged Energy Secretary Chu to support this innovative partnership because it will help secure our nation’s energy independence while investing in technologies which hold great promise for future economic growth in Virginia,” said Senator Jim Webb.

"Partnerships like this will help us develop the foundation for additional jobs and economic investment here in Virginia as our country takes solid steps forward to accelerate the efforts toward clean energy," Sen. Mark Warner said.

According to the DOE announcement, the mission is to research, develop, and demonstrate efficient building components, systems, and models applicable to both retrofit and new construction. Technologies include computer simulation and design tools to enable architects, engineers, contractors, and building operators to work collaboratively on retrofit, renovation, and new building design projects; advanced combined heat and power systems; building-integrated photovoltaic systems for energy generation; HVAC systems with integrated indoor air quality management; and sensor and control networks to monitor building conditions and optimize energy use.

The Interdisciplinary Center for Applied Mathematics at Virginia Tech will work with researchers at Penn State, United Technologies, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and IBM to construct building models that allow for rapid design, optimization, control, and analysis employing existing computational tools. In addition, the center is tasked with developing a revolutionary suite of algorithms and computer design tools for whole building systems that are applicable to both reduced-order representations of large-scale systems and high-fidelity physics-based models to compute structure responses. John A. Burns, the Hatcher Professor of Mathematics in the College of Science and technical director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Applied Mathematics, will lead the Virginia Tech effort.

"This is another case where applied and computational mathematics is the enabling science for big technology and science projects,” said Burns. "[The Interdisciplinary Center for Applied Mathematics] brings a team of world-renowned experts in modeling, model reduction, and computational science for design, control, optimization, and sensitivity analysis of complex spatially dependent dynamical systems. [The center's] researchers will leverage this expertise to develop novel mathematical methodologies and computational algorithms for application to energy efficient buildings."

The project will also incorporate a systematic analysis of the role of policy, markets, and behavior in driving the adoption and use of energy technologies in buildings. As part of the effort to mobilize an energy aware culture and increase adoption of new technologies, Madhav Marathe, professor and deputy director for basic simulation science and computer science with the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech, will create a computational environment for decision and policy analysis and develop scalable computational models of individual behaviors and their adaptations.

An important component of the project is to eliminate gaps in the supply and demand for skilled workers. There are shortages of program managers, engineers that specialize in energy efficiency, and trades people trained in building and constructing integrated energy-efficient buildings. The project will provide education and workforce development to all three groups but focus on training trades people.

"Virginia Tech has tremendous research capacity in energy, building and design, and [information technology] – and a track record of providing workforce training in the modern energy efficiency trades skills," said Robert Walters, vice president for research at Virginia Tech. "It is gratifying to be called upon to meet the energy challenge as part of this ambitious effort."

The Greater Philadelphia Innovation Cluster is the culmination of more than a decade of dedicated team effort; more than 90 organizations have made commitments to help achieve the goals of national energy independence and regional economic development. All member organizations will maintain key, full-time personnel at the Navy Yard.

Virginia Tech's Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science coordinated the university's response to the DOE initiative. "This was a team effort," said Burns. "Roop Mahajan, director of [the institute], and Dr. Walters were extremely helpful and supportive of [the Interdisciplinary Center for Applied Mathematics'] role in the proposal to DOE."

The Energy-Efficient Building Systems Design Hub is one of three hubs that will receive funding in fiscal year 2010. A team led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory will establish a hub on modeling and simulation for nuclear reactors and a team led by the California Institute of Technology will establish a hub focused on developing Fuels from Sunlight. The Energy Innovation Hubs are large, multidisciplinary, highly collaborative teams of scientists and engineers working over a longer time frame to achieve a specific high-priority technical goal.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 225 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $496 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.