Eco-friendly designs

New Bayer facilities serve as models of sustainability

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With its light wood floors, wrap-around deck and large windows and doors that maximize natural light, the one-story structure surrounded by a freshly landscaped bed of perennial plants could easily pass for a mountain or beach retreat. Even the designers dubbed it "Natural Fusion."

What started as a project for Penn State University students for a national solar energy competition evolved into a collaboration with Bayer MaterialScience that resulted in the building landing at Bayer's Robinson campus where it will serve as a showcase for energy-efficient design.

Bayer dedicated its 800-square-foot EcoCommercial Building Conference Center Wednesday but there was no traditional ribbon cutting. Instead, Bayer officials planted a tree.

"That's more eco-friendly," said Paul Platte, head of Bayer's North American eco-commercial building program, which was launched last month as part of the company's global effort to promote sustainability.

Besides the new conference center at Bayer's U.S. headquarters in Robinson, other facilities developed as showcases for the program are a day care center for children of Bayer CropScience employees in Monheim, Germany; a Bayer office building in Diegem, Belgium, and an office building under construction in New Delhi, India.

Bayer MaterialScience is the division of the German-based corporation that makes plastics and polymers used in a range of applications including construction, electronics and automotive. Global sales for the unit last year fell 23 percent, to $9.1 billion, largely as a result of the economic recession that battered markets such as commercial buildings, residential housing and carmakers for which Bayer supplies materials. But in the first quarter this year, as demand picked up especially for new cars, sales for the materials business jumped by 36 percent.

Of the 1,500 Bayer employees at the U.S. headquarters, about 600 work for Bayer MaterialScience.

Bayer hopes the conference center will provide a place to show off its products and systems to architects, engineers, students and other companies that supply building materials.

Among the Bayer products utilized in the center's construction are spray foam insulation, energy-efficient lighting and window components, and environmentally-friendly coatings used on the wood deck. Outside, some of the landscaping mulch contains recycled rubber and a Bayer component that makes it eco-friendly because it doesn't have to be replaced as often.

In addition to being solar-powered, Bayer officials said the facility is "net-zero-energy" because its systems generate about the same amount of energy as they consume. It is "net-zero-emissions" because carbon emissions it generates are balanced by renewable energy production, Bayer said.

The building was designed by Penn State students as a solar-powered residential model for the U.S. Department of Energy's biannual Solar Decathlon competition.

About 200 students with academic majors including business, architecture and various fields of engineering contributed to the project in its early stages, said Mark Witman, manager, industry innovation, construction. It features a combined kitchen-living area, one bath and another room that was originally designed as a bedroom but which Bayer will use as conference space.

The structure was transported to Washington, D.C., last October for the competition and then brought to Bayer's local campus. Bayer USA Foundation contributed $10,000 toward the project and Bayer MaterialScience donated raw materials and expertise.

Major corporations actively looking for such materials and systems for their properties, Mr. Witman said, include PNC Financial Services Group, Wal-Mart and McDonald's.

"This is a kind of living laboratory for us," he said.

Joyce Gannon: or 412-263-1580.


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