Innovative Energy Strategies at the Oregon Zoo

By: Andrew Dykeman, Senior Project Manager
Oregon zoo construction progress

Elephants and polar bears are complete opposites when it comes to their climate preferences—elephants prefer it warm, while polar bears are partial to cooler temperatures.

At the end of 2015, our team, which inlcuded Senior Project Manager Andy Dykeman, completed a three year expansion project that provided the Oregon Zoo’s elephant family with more than 6.5 acres of space to roam and explore. As part of that expansion we constructed an innovative “slinky” geothermal heat pump system that helps regulate temperature.

graphic zooThe underground heating-cooling system is called a geothermal loop, and it acts like a giant heating and cooling battery—a battery that helps maintain temperature in the different habitats. The system is designed to transfer the waste heating and cooling between the two habitats to save significant amounts of energy. When a system makes cool water for polar bears, it rejects the heat to the loop, and the same happens for the rejected cooling from the elephant habitat heating operation.

During construction, crews buried coiled plastic water tubes 12 feet underground in a 1.5 acre geo-exchange field, which sits between Elephant Lands and the exist­ing polar bear exhibit. The unique geothermal system supports the Oregon Zoo’s goals to become the most sustainable zoo in the country by taking advantage of the proximity of the two habitats and the animals’ varying preferences in temperature. The heat that is produced as a byproduct of cooling the polar bear habitat, rather than being expelled and wasted, is captured and put to use keeping the elephants warm. By capturing the expelled heat from the polar bear cooling system and combining it with additional energy efficient design features, Elephant Land’s energy requirements are expected to be cut in half while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40%.

Our work on this system was made all the more meaningful this summer when our team was selected as the general contractor for the upcoming polar bear habitat expansion project—deemed Polar Passage. The Oregon Zoo has been an active participant in crucial conservation science with polar bears for years, and we’re proud to be a part of the team building an exceptional facility to better serve their research and these special animals.

With design underway for Polar Passage, our team is excited to complete the work we started during construction of Elephant Lands. We’re currently engaged in design charrettes with the project team and determining how the new system will be integrated during the renovation of the polar bear habitat.