Students Save 60,000 Pounds of CO2 at Georgia Tech

A class of Georgia Tech students saved the Institute approximately $2,500 in energy costs and prevented more than 60,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. They did it as part of the Carbon Reduction Challenge, a competition that Kim Cobb, associate professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, holds to challenge her students to design and implement a strategy to achieve significant reductions in the amount of carbon dioxide used on campus.

This year 25 students participated in the challenge and the winning team lowered the temperature for the boilers for a group of residence halls, resulting in a savings of more than 5,000 pounds of carbon dioxide in just 10 days.  The winning team was comprised of students Chelsea Datko,  Abby King, Spencer Vore and Sam Whited.
Q: What does the boiler do?
Kim Cobb: It generates hot water that flows through pipes to six campus dorm buildings for heating.

Q: What does lowering the boiling point accomplish?
Kim Cobb: The boiler is normally set to warm the water when the temperature  drops below 140°F and stop warming when the water gets to 160°F.
The students managed to get them to change it to set points of 130°F and 150°F.

Q: What do the students learn from this exercise?
Kim Cobb: They learn things they would typically not get in the classroom, like  
effective team-building, interfacing with a big bureaucracy like Georgia Tech and how to design and implement a solution to a big open-ended problem on a strict timeline with no  money.  But most of all they learn how relatively small interventions by single individuals can have a drastic impact on the Institute's carbon footprint.

I ultimately hope that they are enabled and empowered to actively engage their communities on issues that matter to them, and to push their new ideas with a "Why not?" kind of attitude, working effectively with a wide variety of partners.

Q: What does Georgia Tech learn from it?
Kim Cobb: I know that the various facilities partners that we've had involved in  
the competition this year have been incredibly enthusiastic and supportive.  I think most of them are genuinely surprised at the level of energy savings the students have found through efficiency.

It is my hope that the competition might lead to a more formal process for identifying potential efficiency gains on campus. Educationally, I hope that it could serve as an example of another kind of undergraduate research that is problem-based and hands-on, moving classroom instruction beyond the classroom and leveraging student energy and creativity toward the improvement of the Tech community.
During the last challenge, in 2008, the competition reduced Georgia Tech’s carbon footprint by more than 40,000 pounds of carbon dioxide and saved the Institute approximately $2,000. The winning project for that year, to turn off lighting at Tech’s Bobby Dodd football stadium during the day and limit the lighting at the night during Earth Week saved about 25,000 pounds of carbon dioxide and $1,500 in one week alone. The exercise resulted in the installation of solar breakers so that Tech could automatically keep those savings going.

This year’s prize includes a trip with Cobb to Washington, D.C., to meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. The prize is funded by the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and Georgia Tech’s Honors Program.

Carbon Reduction Challenge
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Associate Professor Kim Cobb(left) pictured with the winners of the Carbon Reduction Challenge: Abby King, Spencer Vore, Chelsea Datko, and Sam Whited.

The Georgia Institute of Technology is one of the world's premier research universities. Ranked seventh among U.S. News & World Report's top public universities and the eighth best engineering and information technology university in the world by Shanghai Jiao Tong University's Academic Ranking of World Universities, Georgia Tech’s more than 20,000 students are enrolled in its Colleges of Architecture, Computing, Engineering, Liberal Arts, Management and Sciences. Tech is among the nation's top producers of women and minority engineers. The Institute offers research opportunities to both undergraduate and graduate students and is home to more than 100 interdisciplinary units plus the Georgia Tech Research Institute.