Pub Grease Helps Heat Green Building Superstar

Move over, One Angel Square, there’s a new top dog in the BREEAM rating system.

One Embankment Place, a commercial building above Charing Cross Station in London that was built more than 20 years ago, has been refurbished for occupant Pricewaterhouse Coopers to the tune of a 96.31 percent rating from the Building Research Establishment. That’s the highest ever, for any kind of building. This time-lapse video from main contractor Overbury gives you a sense of the scope of the work done – done, by the way, with the building 50 percent occupied:

“One Embankment Place has been completely transformed,” the architectural firm on the project, TP Bennett, says on their website, “creating a ‘business hotel’ to meet the needs of PwC for approximately another 20 years.”

What makes the building special? BREEAM notes these features:

  • Biofuel trigeneration CCHP (combined cooling, heat and power) and absorption chillers
  • Green walls and landscaped garden planting
  • Waterless urinals and low flush toilets
  • Comprehensive metering strategy and BMS
  • Interactive screen in reception confirming building energy usage
  • An innovation credit was achieved for the responsible sourcing of materials. >95% of materials used within the construction were responsibly sourced with an ISO 14001 certificate as a minimum.
  • Staircase installed within the atria to promote vertical movement without the use of lifts.

The biofuel aspect of the building is particularly interesting to take a closer look at, since the term can mean so many things and some biofuels – including biodiesels – are much more environmentally sound than others.

In fact, a recent piece, the Union of Concerned Scientists warned that biodiesel made from soy and other crops could be unsustainable:

Driving too much demand for biodiesel will divert vegetable oils and fats from the food supply and other uses. This will result in clearing of rainforests to grow palm oil to meet the additional demand. The severe social and environmental damage of rainforest clearing dwarfs the benefits of biodiesel.

The good news is that One Embankment Place, according to BREEAM, gets its biofuel from Uptown Oil. This is a company that collects waste vegetable oils from London restaurants and pubs, saving the guck from clogging drainpipes (a real problem in London, as elsewhere), and converts it into biodiesel. The Union of Concerned Scientists count this as “an environmentally friendly alternative to diesel.”

Here’s more from BREEAM on the building services:

The base load of the chilled water demand is via two 400 kW adsorption chillers driven by the hot water generated by two 520 kWe (KWe – electrical output) biodiesel combined heat and power units.

The remaining cooling duty is met by three 1.5 MW screw chillers (two duty and one standby). To provide resilience in the system, the capacity of the screw chillers have been sized to maintain the total peak load of the building via two units, also providing backup in case CCHP is not operating for maintenance.

Boilers provide heating to the low grade hot water circuit serving the 4-pipe chilled beams within the office floor plates and the trench heaters system plus the Constant Temperature LTHW circuit serving all air handling units and fan coil circuits on the floors and the hot water service generation plant.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.