At Denver’s redeveloping National Western Center campus, two giant sewer pipes that carry wastewater and human byproducts to a treatment facility north of downtown soon will be put to work on a second mission: keeping buildings a nice, comfy temperature.
Officials overseeing the 250-acre campus in north Denver announced Monday that the National Western complex is primed to be home to the largest sewer heat recovery energy system in North America.
The system will harvest heat from water that goes down the drains of Denverites’ sinks, showers, dishwashers, washing machines and toilets and flows into a pair of 72-inch sewer pipes that run through the campus along the South Platte River. The closed-loop system keeps the soiled, sewer-pipe water isolated as it uses a heat pump to transfer warmth — read: energy — from that water to pipes filled with fresh water. The heated clean water is then used to power heating and cooling machinery in buildings, National Western officials explained.
“We’re making long-term decisions for this campus about how are we going to heat and cool these buildings, and there’s a lot of ways that you can do that,” National Western Center CEO Brad Buchanan told The Denver Post on Monday. “While it may not seem very romantic to look at sanitary sewer lines, in fact, there is tremendous thermal energy in them.”
Seven new buildings –almost one million square feet of space– are scheduled to be built on the National Western campus between now and 2024 as part of a $1 billion overhaul of the stock show hosting property. That includes Colorado State University’s three-building “Spur” campus that got underway this spring. The sewer heat recovery system is expected to provide 90% of the energy needed to keep those structures warm in the winter and cool in the summer, according to Buchanan and co.
Funky as it may sound, the novel system should leave the campus smelling like a rose from an environmental perspective. Officials estimate that it will prevent 2,600 metric tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted into the atmosphere each year by circumventing the need to burn fossil fuels.
The system’s construction will coincide with the two pipes, now above-ground barriers to accessing the river from the campus, being buried. That should also help smother some of the odor the area is known for, Buchanan said.
The innovative project is being built by EAS Energy Partners, a group that includes energy district specialist firm Enwave and Denver-based Saunders Construction.
“We believe in the power of more sustainable cities, and we know working with partners such as the National Western Center with a shared commitment to climate action and innovation is the key to building this future,” Doug Castleberry, president and CEO of Enwave USA, said in a news release.
It will not come cheap. EAS’s contract to design, build, finance and manage the system for 40 years will cost $185 million, Buchanan said. That’s about $11 million more than it would cost to use conventional heating and cooling technology.
But the system has plenty of extra capacity and Buchanan is hopeful the older buildings on the campus can be retrofitted to use it. Forthcoming construction on the property’s so-called “triangle” parcel (now on hold because of Denver’s COVID-19 related budget concerns) may also be hooked in, he said. For Buchanan, it stands to be a model project for clean energy use.
“I can envision a time when proximity to sanitary sewer lines, when previously considered a negative, will be flipped to become an asset and a positive,” he said.
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