Engineering Professors Lead HVAC Energy Control Initiative for U.S. Department of Defense

The research may result in more efficient energy usage nationally.
Engineering Professors Lead HVAC Energy Control Initiative for U.S. Department of Defense
Industrial chiller. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Two University of Miami College of Engineering professors are leading a collaborative initiative to develop more effective HVAC demand controls for U.S. military installations – a project that could also have significant implications for the nation’s commercial real estate industry.

“Our goal is to achieve energy cost savings, uniform thermal comfort, and strengthened resilience during a power outage,” said Gang Wang, Ph.D., P.E., associate professor in the Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering. “This will support mission-critical functions for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).”

Wang is the lead principal investigator for a new $1.025 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) on “Advanced HVAC Load Management using Cascade Controls Integrating Chillers, Air Handling Units, and Terminal Boxes.” The four-year project will be conducted at a regional US Department of Defense facility in South Florida.

“We will evaluate the implementation, operation, and maintenance costs of the proposed HVAC demand control approach on a real-world DoD installation, validate the performance, and enable direct technology transfer and commercialization,” said Wang.

Co-principal investigator for the grant is Esber Andiroglu, Ph.D., P.E., associate professor of practice in the Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering and director of the Master of Science in Construction Management Program. The collaborative grant includes researchers from University of Oklahoma and Tennessee State University, with Siemens Industry Inc. as an industry partner.

“Existing HVAC load management technologies are challenged to simultaneously provide accurate demand control at chillers and share reduced cooling load evenly among all zones,” said Andiroglu, who works with Wang at the University of Miami HVAC laboratory. “Our approach for HVAC load management integrates existing technologies with new cascade controls to evenly distribute the cooling supply from chillers across the facility.”

The researchers will be developing a new load management algorithm utilizing virtual flow meter technology previously developed by the same team to monitor and respond to changes in conditioned air distribution, said Wang. In the event of a prolonged power shortage due to a hurricane or other disaster, a new load management program would allow the HVAC system to equalize the demand for conditioned air. Currently, areas of a building, campus or military facility located close to the air handling units or chillers might be cooler, while those farther away would be warmer.

More effective load management controls can also lead to reductions in peak energy demand, helping the DoD defer capital investments by downsizing photovoltaics, thermal storage and microgrid systems, said Andiroglu.

“In a world facing the challenges of climate change and decarbonization, reducing energy demand in large facilities would have a significant impact,” he added. “If we can demonstrate this concept at one facility, other DoD facilities may adopt the same technology. That could lead to more widespread use in academic institutions, business parks or other commercial real estate facilities using chiller-based HVAC systems.”