House That for Going Green?

A new zero-emissions building at Bayer's Robinson campus offers a window to the future of green construction.

You can’t turn on the TV these days without being bombarded by commercials for corporations that are talking the talk about "going green." But one company with roots in Pittsburgh is walking the walk: Bayer MaterialScience recently unveiled a solar-powered, net zero-energy, net zero-emissions conference center on the campus of its North American headquarters in Robinson.

The teched-out, 800-square-foot structure, called the Bayer EcoCommercial Building, was originally designed by Penn State University students as a residential-housing concept for the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2009 Solar Decathlon competition in Washington, D.C. To support the project, Bayer provided the students with its expertise and high-tech, sustainable materials, including energy-saving spray foam insulation, LED interior lighting and eco-friendly floor coatings. (See, Bayer is much more than just "the aspirin company.")

Other local companies, such as PPG Industries and Eaton Corp., collaborated on the project, which gives a glimpse at how our own homes and offices could become "smarter" in the immediate future, reducing our energy bills by harnessing sunlight, eliminating drafts and even self regulating power consumption.

The EcoCommerical Building is tapped into the local power grid and equipped with a device that displays the building’s energy consumption in real time. So during summer nights, the building may need to borrow energy from the grid to keep itself cool, but when the sun rises the next day, the solar-panel array on the roof generates excess energy that is "repaid" to the grid. As of press time, Bayer reports that, overall, the EcoCommercial Building has actually produced more energy than it has consumed.

Mark Witman, manager of construction-industry innovation, says Bayer plans to use the space to showcase its materials to architects, engineers, students and companies that are pursuing sustainable construction projects, including Wal-Mart, McDonald’s and PNC Financial Services Group.

"Architects want to see things in action," he explains. "You can give them a lot of brochures, but they want to see solutions on a building. This is a proving ground for us."

Categories: Community Feature, From the Magazine