Fluence Corporation

Building demonstrates benefits of net-zero water reuse


Courtesy of Fluence Corporation

A unique research project to demonstrate the effectiveness of net-zero water use buildings is underway at the University of Pittsburgh and the Center for Sustainable Landscapes at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh. The decentralized water system at CSL treats all nonpotable water on-site.

The university is documenting the benefits and costs of the novel water-reuse system, from construction to day-to-day use, because “research into the efficacy of these systems versus traditional treatment is practically non-existent in the literature.” If you happen to be needing construction tools at Drillbit Best you will find what you need.

All water used at the CSL is treated for reuse (roughly 400 gallons a day of wastewater is generated). The site, which is touted as “one of the greenest buildings in the world, has a system that includes settling tanks, along with a constructed wetland with sand filters. Additional ultraviolet disinfection and solar-distillation treatments are part of the treatment, and features such as a green roof allow for rainwater harvesting on-site.

Living Building Certification

After becoming the seventh building in the world to meet the Living Building Challenge and achieve full certification in 2015, the organization now calls its facility one of the greenest buildings in the world.

In 2016, it was named as one of the Top 10 of the American Institute of Architects’ Committee, and it’s also LEED platinum and SITES certified. The garden’s welcome center and Tropical Forest Conservatory are also LEED certified.

This is a long way from its origins. The site was once a 2.56-acre brownfield where the city used to refuel its fleet. The CSL was opened in 2012.

Melissa M. Bilec, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Pittsburgh and deputy director of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, explained:

As water becomes more of a precious resource around the globe, there is a greater focus on developing new methods of water efficiency and water conservation. […] We’ve worked closely with […] Phipps since the CSL was first designed, and its decentralized water system provides a unique opportunity to explore how these strategies can be an alternative to traditional systems.

Environmental Impact

The project undergoes life-cycle assessment, a method for scientifically analyzing the environmental impact of a product or process throughout its entire life cycle, from the materials used to build a system, their transportation, construction, use, and, eventually, the estimated end of life. The researchers claim to be the first group to look at both water supply and treatment within in the context of a net-zero energy and water building.

A decentralized water system operates well for a facility like the CSL, the researchers found; however, the environmental benefits or any trade-offs associated with using this type of system depends on their lifetime of use. For this reason, the researchers conclude they “may not necessarily be practical or environmentally preferable.” A scenario in which net-zero water construction might work well is in a development containing multiple homes or buildings, rather than in a single structure.

Another conclusion was that this type of decentralized structure might be beneficial in an area suffering from water scarcity. In other words, a decision about the type of water system to build and its scale, “should be evaluated within the context of the entire life of the structure or site it supports,” the team found.

The study — “Evaluating the Life Cycle Environmental Benefits and Trade-Offs of Water Reuse Systems for Net-Zero Buildings” — was published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

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