Advanced Protein Characterization Facility: Green building features

Argonne National Laboratory’s Advanced Protein Characterization Facility (APCF) has received the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification. Construction of the APCF was funded by the State of Illinois.

The facility is a 55,486 square foot, state-of-the-art, highly automated laboratory. It is connected to Argonne’s Advanced Photon Source (APS), the brightest high-energy synchrotron in the Western Hemisphere. This is particularly useful to researchers who work on genomic and protein research. The APCF provides space for the Midwest Center for Structural Genomics, among other research groups. The building was designed so it can be easily modified to accommodate future research needs.

Creating a sustainable site

One of the most important initial building design considerations is orientation. In order to take advantage of natural daylight and airflow, the APCF was designed as a long, single story building, oriented on an east-to-west axis. The planning team also kept in mind the importance of shading the building’s south exposure in the summertime.

Native plants are an important part of Argonne’s campus—meadows, savanna, wetlands and grasslands dominate the terrain. Half of the area surrounding the APCF building was restored with native and adaptive vegetation. With the exception of some non-native turf grass, all plants are either indigenous or cultivars of native plants adapted to the local climate. This minimizes weekly mowing costs and reduces fossil fuel use. Native plantings were also paired with rainwater management strategies to assist in the treatment of rainwater.

The APCF was built on a previously developed site. During construction, the contractor was required to reduce pollution on site by controlling soil erosion, waterway sedimentation and airborne dust generation. Toward this end, an erosion and sedimentation control plan was implemented.

“Green” transportation friendly

The APCF has bike racks near its entrance so building occupants have easy access to Argonne’s on-site Bike Share Program. Showers and changing rooms are also available for riders. Additionally, five percent of the APCF’s parking spaces are dedicated for electric vehicles.

Countering the heat island effect

“Heat island effect” occurs when surfaces that were once permeable and moist become impermeable and dry; this causes areas—often urban areas—to become warmer than their rural surroundings. The APCF building design addressed this effect with a light-colored, thermoplastic polyolefin roof membrane. The reflective roof material repels solar radiation on the surface, helping to keep the roof surface cooler and reducing the energy load used for cooling in the hot summer months.

Shade trees are also located on the south and west sides of the building to reduce the heat island effect and glare. Trees were placed near all entrances and patios so building occupants can benefit from them in the summer. Transpiration from shade trees can lower ambient temperatures anywhere from five to 10 degrees from surrounding air in the summer. Deciduous trees were specifically planted so they lose their leaves in the winter, enabling the building to collect heat from the sun in winter months. This also lets plenty of daylight into the interior of the building.

Rainwater management

Rainwater runoff from the building is collected, filtered and conveyed through a combination of roof drains, retention ponds and bioswales. The APCF was designed with a minimal amount of piping, prioritizing green rather than grey stormwater infrastructure. The rainwater that flows over hardscaped areas is directed through depressed paving areas, over vegetated filter strips, and into the retention and treatment bioswale before releasing water into the existing site swales.

Reducing light pollution

The placement of light fixtures provides for a well-lit, safe environment, while minimizing unnecessary lighting. Light fixtures have full, cut-off angles so light levels beyond the APCF’s parking lot are low. All non-emergency interior lighting automatically turns off during non-operating hours to minimize light pollution at night and conserve energy.

Water efficiency

Landscaping and interior water fixtures have helped reduce water use by about 30 percent and they meet the Energy Policy Act of 1992 for fixture performance requirements.

Landscaping was designed to reduce the need of irrigation following an initial establishment period. Plants were chosen for their drought tolerance, with only perennial plantings used.

The APCF uses low-flow water fixtures throughout its interior design and water flow restrictors have been provided for all lab faucets.

Energy and atmosphere

The APCF meets and exceeds stringent architectural, mechanical and electrical efficiency design criteria. Its energy cost has been reduced by 30 percent compared to a similar building. This savings equals an achievement of six points in the LEED v2.2 rating system.

Energy efficiency design starts with the building’s orientation, so the APCF was oriented to precisely 15 degrees off true east-west. This orientation maximizes daylighting potential and winter solar gain while minimizing summer solar heat gain.

The “skin” of the building, or the envelope, was designed to achieve overall exterior thermal performance exceeding U-values (a measure of heat loss in a building), solar heat gain coefficients and all other requirements set forth in the ASHRAE 90.1-2004 standard.

Laboratory environments are energy intensive spaces. With that in mind, mechanical systems were designed to leverage efficiencies and recover heat and/or energy. For instance, an enthalpy energy recovery wheel works year round to transfer heating or cooling from the exiting conditioned air to the incoming, unconditioned air.

A unique solution to the APCF’s heating needs was found next door at Argonne’s APS facility. At the APS, a magnet-cooling water system draws heat from the magnets into the water used to cool the magnets. That water, containing the waste heat from the APS experiment, is carried to APCF where the heat is used to condition the spaces. High performance low-flow fume hoods have been installed to reduce overall energy use.

Office areas at APCF are cooled using highly efficient, chilled beams which reduce fan-energy, primary airflow required from the air-handling unit.

Meters, measures and sensors for efficiency

Through the measurement of CO2 within office spaces, the volume of outside air can be varied to deliver to actual occupant demand. This approach greatly reduces building energy consumption, as heating and cooling outside air is a large portion of total energy consumption. All outdoor air is provided with air-flow measuring stations.

Building systems have been metered to measure lighting, motors and general purpose power. This metering integrates with the building energy management system to track and evaluate energy performance. Lighting is also controlled via a central building automation system (BAS) to minimize energy consumed.

Additional efficiencies in lighting were gained with occupancy sensors, daylight sensors and multi-level controls. Daylight sensors detect natural daylight and when present, reduce interior lighting by 50 percent.

Materials and resources used

The extraction, processing and transport of building materials to a building site contribute to a facility’s ecological footprint. In the APCF project design, all team members sought to use materials from local and responsible sources.

The construction project team explored the incorporation of several types of recycled products into the project specifications, many of which were readily available in the marketplace and did not increase product cost. For example, the construction project used recycled asphalt, concrete and masonry for fill under landscape areas. Counter tops were made from resin and recycled wood fiber. Laboratory metal casework contained a high recycled content. Wood-based lab casework is made from Forest Stewardship Council certified wood and is formaldehyde-free. Steel reinforcement, structural steel and steel decking have a high percentage of recycled material and were also regionally available. Other regional materials were incorporated into the project design and specifications wherever available, such as concrete aggregates and reinforcement.

The green building goal of regional materials created a synergy with Argonne’s “buy American” standards. Several manufacturing cities within 500 miles of the project site helped the building construction team obtain high quality, sustainable local materials and building systems. Finally, one of the best ways to reduce material waste is to design using fewer materials. Exposed structural elements and ceilings reduced the amount of material resources needed for the designed spaces of the facility.

Indoor environmental quality

The APCF is a pleasant place to work. Occupants enjoy expansive views of the outdoors, a high level of daylight in the office and interior laboratory spaces, sufficient and comfortable ventilation and individual lighting controls. Giving occupants control over their workspace lighting is another aspect of indoor environmental quality. Lighting controls are provided to all building occupants at workstations and lab benches with task lighting. Switches and/or dimming controls are provided in common, multi-user spaces.

The architectural and interior design of the project minimized the amount of materials and systems that emit volatile organic compounds into the indoor air. The project team zeroed in on adhesives, sealants, paints coatings and flooring systems that reduce the amount of off gassing within the building envelope.


Several daylighting strategies were used in the building with the aim of drawing light deep into the interior of the building. This contributes to a pleasant indoor environment, cuts down on interior lighting needs and reduces interior solar heat gain. The building is oriented east to west to maximize penetration of natural light into offices and common spaces while minimizing hot, direct morning and evening sun. The center spine of the structure which separates the offices from the labs, delivers an abundance of natural light into the center of the building through the use of a clerestory feature running the length of the building. Open office areas in the southern block of the building receive daylight through the doors, transoms and side-lights at the perimeter offices.

If not controlled, outside light can be a source of glare and visual discomfort. To counter this effect, the APCF’s southern windows are electrochromatically dimmable, enabling users to switch on a darkening feature when there is heat/glare. To compliment daylighting strategies, the building envelope consists of insulated assemblies to control solar heat gain.

Other recent Energy & Water Conservation posts