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Amongst the many buildings of the SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Albany, New York, something a bit different stands. Within the buildings of Colleges of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE) exists what might be the world’s most advanced university research enterprise in existence today.

With 300 industrial partners, 4,000 scientists, engineers, students and faculty, and over $40 billion invested, the new Zero Energy Nanotechnology building, or ZEN building, is at the forefront of advanced building technology. The six floor, 400,000 square foot facility cost approximately $200 million to build and, in addition to teaching space, it provides research & development as well as office space for business and industry partners.

“ZEN is our Zero Energy Nano building and today it’s our signature building on campus,” said Pradeep Haldar, CNSE Vice President of Entrepreneurship Innovation and Clean Energy Programs. “This is absolutely a cutting-edge building. What you see in this facility, the equipment, the technologies, the design elements that are being used here have not been done before,”

The structure produces more energy than is consumes by utilizing renewable power generation through photovoltaic solar panels and phosphoric acid fuel cells. The building encompasses a 10,000 square foot atrium, covered by a glass dome roof, which allows natural light to flood interior offices. In fact most offices in the ZEN building don’t even need electric lights for their day-to-day activities.

For those rooms, or times, that do need electrical lighting support efficiency is key. Each occupant in the building carries an RFID card, allowing the building to track people as they move in and out of rooms, turning on and off lights as they do.

“This has not been accomplished before in this type of environment,” said Haldar. “We are laying the groundwork for the adoption of technologies that can transform the way we think about buildings and decrease the amount of energy they require.”

Just months after construction was officially completed the facility is almost fully occupied. Its biggest tenant, CommerceHub, an e-commerce software company, is leasing 50,000 square-feet on the top floor of the ZEN building under an agreement that includes attaching its logo to the outside of the building.

Less known residents, such as John W. Danforth Co., a company specializing in building heating and cooling systems, are relishing the chance to reside at ZEN. “It’s huge for us,” said Brian Hannafin, the firm’s vice president of corporate development. “To be located in this environment is an incredible opportunity for us. These [other tenants] are partners of ours. We’re right next to them. We use this as a real showcase.”

The building has also attracted international attention with Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) joining a $25 million partnership to invest in emerging energy technologies at ZEN. The partnership will install, commission, test and demonstrate state-of-the-art technologies including solar photovoltaics, lighting, fuel cells and smart building energy management systems.

Ichiro Tsubota, Director General of the Energy Conservation Technology Department at NEDO, said, “This collaboration is an important part of our international strategy to provide our partners with the critical capabilities needed to accelerate deployment of energy efficiency technologies, and we are excited to be able to utilize the CNSE ZEN building and uphold it as an international model of what is possible.”

Another international ZEN tenant is DPS Engineering, from Ireland, which has chosen the building as its headquarters for its U.S. Advanced Technology Group. DPS intends to hire 56 people over the next five years as it works on SUNY Poly’s silicon carbide wafer project and the SolarCity solar panel factory project in Buffalo, New York.

DPS Engineering has been integrating sustainability and energy efficient design into all of its projects; both new buildings and retrofits. By placing its offices at ZEN it can further enhance its commitment to smart and green technology.

“We continue to be excited by our investment in New York,” said Frank Keogh, DPS Engineering’s CEO. “We have an ongoing commitment to reducing the environmental impact of all our activities and to enhancing the environmental sustainability of our business, and (our) cutting edge design and conservation solutions demonstrate exactly the kind of focus on building efficiency ZEN’s energy related tenants have”.

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