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The IEE’s research has laid a foundation for innovations such as bright and energy-saving white light LED lighting, more energy-efficient data center communications and interconnects, and software used to reduce energy usage in buildings worldwide.

This Lab Explores Innovative Methods to Save Energy

The University of California Santa Barbara’s Institute for Energy Efficiency is dedicated to supporting an energy-efficient and sustainable future

MaryBeth DiDonna

MaryBeth DiDonna is lab design editor and digital events editor for Lab Manager. Her work for the lab design section of the publication examines the challenges that project teams...

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The University of California Santa Barbara's Institute for Energy Efficiency (IEE) is at the global forefront of research related to energy savings. This interdisciplinary research institute is dedicated to science and technology that supports an energy-efficient and sustainable future, with a focus on critical energy issues in three broad interdisciplinary themes—smart societal infrastructure, energy-efficient computing and communications, and the food-energy-water nexus. Six different research areas make up the IEE: lighting, electronics and photonics, building and design, production and storage, economics, and policy. The IEE’s research has laid a foundation for innovations such as bright and energy-saving white light LED lighting, more energy-efficient data center communications and interconnects, and software used to reduce energy usage in buildings worldwide. 

The IEE is now housed in Henley Hall, which was completed and opened in late 2020. The facility is named for Jeff Henley and his wife, Judy, following a $50 million gift in 2012 to the IEE and the College of Engineering. Jeff Henley—a UCSB alumnus, a founder of the IEE, and a former chairman of the board of software company Oracle Corporation—has called UC Santa Barbara the world’s “best-kept secret.” 

“Since you don’t know where breakthroughs will be, you have to be flexible.”

The 49,900 gross sq. ft. Henley Hall facility contains 17 labs, both wet and dry; along with collaborative spaces, conference rooms, a lecture hall, and faculty and administrative offices. Efficiency measures in the design plan include passive features such as solar shading and thermal insulation, as well as active features such as demand-controlled ventilation and a 25 percent reduction in lighting power density. The project utilized more than 20 percent recycled materials in its construction. The university announced in November 2021 that Henley Hall had achieved LEED Platinum certification. 

A focus on reducing energy usage

“The world continues to rapidly increase the amount of energy consumed,” says John Bowers, director of the IEE, noting that increased energy use leads to multiple problems. “Climate change is happening because of increased use of fossil fuels. We are depleting natural resources such as oil to generate energy; we are spending lots of money to import oil. Energy is needed for producing the products our society needs. It is important to have inexpensive energy. One solution is to generate more and more energy. Our focus is how to make more efficient devices.”

The University of California Santa Barbara's Institute for Energy Efficiency, housed in Henley Hall, is at the global forefront of energy savings research.
Patrick W. Price

The institute’s focus on energy efficiency spans across its different labs and disciplines. “The results of these interdisciplinary research projects are changing the way we use energy, while concurrently educating and training a new generation of energy-aware and sustainability-aware scientists and technologists,” says Terry Brown, of Research Facilities Design, the firm that acted as laboratory design consultant for Henley Hall. 

“One lab is exclusively lighting. We are focused on gallium nitride lasers because they are much brighter for auto headlamps and streetlamps,” adds Bowers. “Another focus is data centers. Usage is growing fast as we all use Facebook, Google, etc., and those all require data information storage. One lab focuses on the mockup of a data center, and it provides different ways to design data centers and demonstrate efficiency gains in the lab. 

Storing photos on a social media network such as Facebook requires server storage which, in turn, emits a large amount of heat. The IEE and Facebook announced a partnership in February 2021 designed to expedite research into energy-efficient data centers and artificial intelligence (AI). Through a $1.5 million grant from Facebook, IEE will research advanced energy-efficient data center infrastructure, including low-power optical interconnects for computer networks and machine learning (ML) with reduced carbon footprint. Facebook will also assist with IEE’s research projects and provide their researchers with insight from their experience in designing and operating data centers. IEE anticipates that this partnership will allow it to reach multiple orders-of-magnitude improvement in the efficiency of both data center and AI/ML workloads.

The IEE’s research is the foundation for innovations related to energy-efficient lighting, data center communications, software, and more.
Mark Davis, KieranTimberlake

Another focus of the IEE is the marriage of silicon chips with fiber optic technology. Adding fiber to electric chips will essentially permit the different parts of the chip to communicate, which will offer an increase in efficiency that eliminates the need for faster, energy-consuming chips. 

“More efficient data centers are changing how computers talk to each other,” says Bowers. “All integrated circuit chips have wires on them today and we are working on integrating photonics into the package so optical, not electrical, information is going into the chip. It can reduce energy by a factor of 10 to 100 and can increase the amount of information sent by orders of magnitude,” he says. “Intel is one of the companies commercializing the research. It is a big switch. Chips from Intel, Broadcom, and others will have optics transmitting information. Now everything is about fiber optics.”

An eye on technological advancements

The building itself works toward a sustainable future right alongside the researchers, bringing together students, faculty, and staff who were previously scattered across multiple buildings. Inviting nature and natural light into Henley Hall also plays a role in the IEE’s overall goal of sustainability and energy efficiency. The east side of the building, where workspaces and offices are located, features operable windows to stimulate airflow through the multi-story atrium. The labs are located on the west side of the building, and use air monitoring and occupancy sensors to reduce ventilation-driven energy use while protecting the occupants and research projects within. A flexible design is key to a lab where research is constantly evolving and changing. “Since you don’t know where breakthroughs will be, you have to be flexible,” says Bowers. 

The IEE is a multi-disciplinary research institute, with quantum computing and photonics among its fields of study.
UCSB College of Engineering

Flexible lab design also means fewer renovations and less money down the line. Mark Davis of KieranTimberlake, principal in charge of the Henley Hall project, notes, “The labs are designed with open and accessible infrastructure and modular, movable casework, lowering the threshold and cost for lab reconfiguration and upgrades.” As Davis explains, the façade is designed with transparency and operability, allowing the research inside to be visible to the wider university. The labs and researchers are able to enjoy access to abundant natural light, adjacent open-air breakout spaces, and unmatched views of the surrounding Santa Ynez mountains.

“We are trying to push the envelope on things that have not been done before.”

Features such as these have made the IEE community glad to work together in the building, says Bowers, with happiness and satisfaction being a crucial aspect to the advancement of their innovation and research. “The lab’s north wall is glass so the lab is well lit, and you can glance outside and see what is going on. Santa Barbara’s temperate climate allows us to have floor-to-ceiling glass labs and offices, yet it is not too hot or cold. Floor-to-ceiling glass allows you to feel more connected to the outside world,” he says.

The goal of the IEE is to make US industry more efficient in terms of energy use and expense, and the IEE’s research will lead to increased efficiency for computer servers, data communication, novel architectures, and novel cooling approaches. Research areas such as quantum computing, efficient chemical processing, and solid-state lighting will also benefit from the IEE’s work. 

“We are trying to push the envelope on things that have not been done before. We are typically working on novel materials. Material breakthroughs that are achieved can make a change in society,” says Bowers.