Most people aren’t thinking about air conditioning during the middle of winter, but Virginia Tech’s new chilled water plant is now online, keeping things cool, and allowing for campus growth.

The plant, located in the life sciences area of campus, off Duck Pond Drive, uses a complex method to cool water and pumps it to nearby buildings, cooling rooms as well as research equipment.

Built at a cost of $16 million, the plant currently cools the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science II, the Human and Agricultural Biosciences Building 1, and the Life Sciences Building 1. It was designed to expand when future buildings are built in that area of campus.

“Our cooling systems are at peak capacity,” said Mark Helms, interim associate vice president and chief facilities officer. “Without this chilled water plant the new expansion in the Life Sciences District would not be possible.”

Inside the plant, more than 1,500 gallons of water are held in a large tank filled with copper tubing. The water is pumped through the tubes and slowly cooled. When the water reaches a preset temperature it is then pumped to nearby buildings through underground pipes using 150 horsepower motors.

After the water cools the surrounding buildings it is returned to the plant. The water goes up to a cooling tower on top of the plant, which uses large turbines and evaporation to help cool the water. Then the water is pumped back to the tank and the process repeats.

A chilled water plant is 50 percent more efficient than cooling systems in individual buildings, which is how much of the Virginia Tech campus is currently cooled. Long range plans call for building more centralized chilled water plants in various parts of campus. This will improve energy efficiency, reduce costs, and allow for additional growth.

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 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 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.

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