Bleeding Green

Green building is a major, developing trend. Biodiesel Magazine investigates the current and potential role of biodiesel in this growing movement.
By Anna Austin | May 11, 2009
Since its inception in the 1970s, the criteria used for "building green" – the practice of using energy efficient, environmentally friendly designs and materials in construction – has been transformed. Earth Day, a nationwide, grassroots demonstration that debuted in 1970, may have served as the unofficial beginning of the green building movement. Since then, energy-saving infrastructure such as solar panels, water reclamation systems and modular construction units have become commonplace.

In the past, the greening process mainly referred to a building's structural enhancements, but today, it begins with the first shovel of earth, which may be powered by any number of fuels – including biodiesel. The use of biodiesel in on-site construction equipment fleets, or as a heat and power source for facilities, is becoming more common. The incentives and benefits associated with biodiesel use as part of a green-building strategy are becoming increasingly obvious.

The Pyramid Companies, a Syracuse, N.Y.-based construction firm, only uses B100 to fuel its equipment fleets for its Destiny USA construction project. Since 2007, the company has reduced its greenhouse gas output by 67 percent, according to a U.S. EPA technical report. The company is also committed to pursuing Leadership in Energy Environmental Design Platinum Level certification. The LEED program was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council and is the nationally recognized benchmark for design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings.

The Pyramid Companies isn't alone in aspiring to take the LEED lead. Through its Destiny USA development, project developer and owner Aldeia LLC is currently constructing Independence Station, a $15 million building complex at Independence, Ore., which will house condominiums, multiple office spaces and retail stores. The complex will feature a multitude of green characteristics including seven biodiesel-powered generators and a biodiesel production facility.

From groundbreaking to completion, these companies are poised to set a new standard for green economic development.

Scoring the LEED
The LEED system awards points to projects satisfying specific green building criteria. Within each of the six LEED credit categories, projects must satisfy particular prerequisites in order to earn points. The categories include sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation in design. The number of points a project earns determines the level of LEED certification it receives-certified, silver, gold or platinum. The LEED points system tops out at 69.

Since 2000, when the first LEED new construction rating system was released, there have been more than 19,500 registered LEED projects in all 50 U.S. states and 91 countries.

Although that number seems high, energy consumption from commercial and residential buildings represents almost 39 percent of primary energy use in the U.S., according to the Energy Information Administration. And, since buildings are among the heaviest consumers of natural resources, accounting for 38 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions according to EIA, there is astronomical room for improvement.

World's Greenest Building
Aldeia has dubbed its Independence Station project the "World's Greenest Building." The 57,000 square-foot building is expected to win the highest LEED rating recorded: 64 points, with two additional points pending. Not only will Independence Station complex house residential and business space, it will also host facilities for biofuel production, education and research. Steven Riberio, Aldeia principal developer, says he plans to be personally involved in the production of biodiesel, which will be made from yellow grease collected from local restaurants.

"I've made arrangements with them to collect their waste oil year-round, in exchange for an endorsement from Aldeia and table tents explaining that the restaurants are helping to support the world's greenest building with their waste oil," Riberio says. The waste oil will be transported via a retired, 3,000-gallon heating oil delivery truck purchased by Aldeia. B99 will also be purchased from nearby SeQuential-Pacific Biofuels, which owns a biodiesel refinery in Salem, Ore.

The anticipated annual utility savings for Independence Station, construction of which is now 50 percent complete, will come in at about 92 percent, compared to a typical code-compliant building of the same size and type. "Our goal is for our residents in this amazing building to live much better than the average American, but do so on just 17 percent of the energy that the average American consumes – and I'm referring to their complete lifestyle," Riberio says.

While biodiesel will be the main energy source for Aldeia's facility, across the nation, another construction company has also embraced biodiesel but in a slightly different role.

Destined for Green
Robert Congel, founder of The Pyramid Companies and its Destiny USA project, is a successful shopping mall developer in the northeast with more than 1,000 centers, whose annual retail sales total about $5 billion, according to Melissa Perry, Destiny USA director of sustainability. Originally from Syracuse, Congel became displeased with slow economic growth in the area while he was developing the infamous Carousel shopping center. "Just under 70 oil tanks existed at a brownfield site near Syracuse," Perry explains. "Driving in from the airport into the city, it was what you would see. Knowing that this was an issue – and how unattractive it was to anybody who might come to the city to open a business, live or work here – Congel decided to do something about it."

After an extended battle, Congel eventually got the oil tanks condemned and moved to another area, and chose the site as the location for Carousel Center. Destiny USA, a pre-certified gold LEED project, is an expansion of this center, which attracts 17 million people each year. "He knew he had to go further to develop economic growth in the area, and decided to do something unique and different," Perry says. "Now that he is in his 70s, he was looking for a legacy project that people will reflect on, and realize something really great was accomplished."

Congel's master plan, as Perry tells it, includes molding the new facility into a green consumer retail and research laboratory. "In this economic environment, it was important for Congel to come up with something other than a just a place where companies that were struggling could go," Perry says. "[He envisioned] a place where they could learn more about their customer base, and maximize their square footage through testing and research of different projects."

Within that project, Congel wished to challenge everybody locally, regionally and nationally to make Destiny USA the greenest facility in the country. "He wanted to make it a large-scale demonstration project for renewable energy, and also a whole-green building," Perry says. "That's why we came to look at this project totally differently than any other retail facility or construction project in the country. The challenge we were given was to complete this project – construction and operations – without the use of fossil fuels. Obviously, that was a huge undertaking, so we started with the construction piece and thought of different ways we could meet that challenge, and decided biodiesel would be a great way to start."

Fueling Fleets with Biodiesel
Perry points out that many construction equipment and manufacturing companies do not warranty their engines. "So we had to gather our excavation contractor, construction manager, and the equipment leasing companies, along with a lot of different players, to collaborate and discover how we could overcome this and get everyone onboard to allow this kind of testing to go on during our construction," she says.

After an extended effort involving many people from places such as Yellowstone National Park, which has been using biodiesel in all of its equipment for the past eight years, and Washington-based excavation company Earthwise Excavation, everybody involved in the construction of the Destiny USA facility finally agreed to press forward with incorporation of biodiesel blends in its construction equipment. "The final decision to make it a go was in March 2007," Perry says. "We built the program, and started with a B10 blend to give everybody some confidence. After a month, we moved to B20, and then almost skipped B50 altogether. By mid-May, we were using full-blown B100 in all the construction equipment on-site." More than 100 pieces of different fleet equipment, from the lighting to excavators, bulldozers, cranes, pile driving equipment and all generators at the Destiny USA project site run on B100.

Feedback from the equipment operators regarding the performance of biodiesel has all been positive, despite some initially negative assumptions. "There was a lot of pre-chatter about loss of horsepower and other things, but everybody who used the equipment said it was truly minimal, if any," Perry says.

To date, Destiny USA has used more than 249,000 gallons of biodiesel in its equipment fleets. To evaluate what kind of emissions resulted from the switch to biodiesel, an emissions report by a third party was conducted. In collaboration with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and Southern Research Institute, an emissions report was prepared to evaluate the effects of switching from ultra-low sulfur diesel to biodiesel.

"The biggest success story was that at B100, we were at about 68 percent cleaner than ultra-low sulfur diesel, for removing particulate matter from the air," Perry says. "We're about 59 percent more efficient in removing carbon monoxide from the air, and we've dropped about 2,000 tons of carbon dioxide out of the air compared to a normal construction project."

Using B100 hasn't come without challenges though. "It actually significantly increased [nitrogen oxides] at a B100 level versus ultra-low sulfur diesel," Perry admits. "We are very transparent with our results though. We published that, along with all of our results, and the day that came out in the paper we received multiple calls from people trying to help us with a solution. There's a lot of technology out there that we haven't tested yet, but we're purposely transparent because we know this isn't a perfect solution-and we're trying to develop a way to make biodiesel usage viable, and as clean as possible."

As far as the future role of biodiesel in construction activity is concerned, Perry says serving as a living example has helped encourage smaller, but similar, initiatives. "Whether people use it at the B100 level or not is yet to be seen, but we like to bring things to the extreme with the demonstration, hoping we can get people to come in at any level," she says. "One of our contractors, who's used 60,000 of the 260,000 gallons we've gone through, has already got another bid project in Syracuse and uses B20 on-site, and has also contacted multiple distributors to use it all over New York state for projects. It's a single success story, but we believe people will eventually become comfortable with it."

Paperless Fuel Tracking
Throughout its biodiesel-fueled construction activities, The Pyramid Companies has been able to test a unique, paperless fuel-tracking technology in collaboration with Ascent Aviation LLC. "We were looking for a partner to provide us with quite a bit of biodiesel, as well as trucking equipment and storage," Perry says. "The great thing that completes the story, which is all about economic development, is that they invested in the infrastructure and storage facilities, put in a blending facility and hired more people for the purpose of what we're doing here."

The unique technology used at the Destiny USA site, called Fleet Connect, allows for computerized fuel tracking using small devices called iButtons. "Due to the high number of contractors on the site at any give time, which can be up upwards of 40, tracking the fuel billing was challenging," Perry explains. "This technology basically registers each piece of equipment with small iButtons, which go on each equipment piece's fuel tank." The device accurately measures the amount of fuel put into the tank by gallon, notes to whom the fuel belongs, and which contractor is using it. "This allowed us a very unique, paperless environment to track fuel usage," she says. "It's a new technology they were testing at airports and we thought it would be a great introduction into the construction industry."

Now that the core and shell of the 1.3 million square feet Destiny USA building is nearly complete, work on the interior will begin. Working through three phases, the facility is slated for completion in 2012. Throughout the rest of the construction process, the company plans to continue its green initiatives, including the use of biodiesel, while embracing an applicable motto: "Green is a journey, not a destination."

Anna Austin is an associate editor of Biodiesel Magazine. Reach her at (701) 738-4968 or [email protected].
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