CHATTANOOGA, TENN. — Being first to accomplish something is a remarkable achievement in its own right. Anyone attempting anything after the fact is just considered a follower. Take the automotive industry, for example. The Chattanooga, Tenn.,-based Volkswagen assembly plant, which became fully operational last year and is expected to employ nearly 3,000 people, is the first and only automotive manufacturing plant in the world to receive the highest level of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The automaker has achieved Platinum LEED certification for two new facilities: the Volkswagen Assembly Plant and the Volkswagen Academy, both located on the same site here. 

"Volkswagen Chattanooga’s LEED Platinum certification is the fulfillment of a promise that Volkswagen has made around the world and in this community that we will work in harmony with the environment," said Frank Fischer, CEO and chairman of Volkswagen Chattanooga. “Our commitment to building a LEED certified factory began in the planning and design stages. I believe that this not only helped ensure that we would achieve Platinum status, but was actually a very cost effective way to implement environmentally responsible building methods."

When planning for its new facility, the company enlisted the help of St. Louis-based Vertegy, a sustainability consulting firm, along with international engineering, architectural, and construction management firm SSOE Group, to guide the sustainable design and construction of the facility. Located 12 miles from downtown Chattanooga, the Volkswagen Assembly Plant consists of a body shop, administrative office area, paint shop, technology center and general assembly building. Also within the larger complex are multiple support buildings, including a firehouse, a central utilities building and a training center known as Volkswagen Academy.

“The magnitude of this project combined with the experience and talent possessed by the entire project team encouraged innovations in every aspect, and these innovations were welcomed by Volkswagen, resulting in the achievement of the highest honor of LEED certification,” said Thomas Taylor, general manager of Vertegy.

Mechanical systems

With its corporate office in Livonia, Mich., and regional offices in Chattanooga, Tenn., W.J. O’Neil contracted the mechanical utility package for assembly shop, paint shop, body shop, tech center, and RBI and RBII — onsite social buildings. This included 52 air-handling units for HVAC, building piping utility mains (chilled water, hot water, city water, welding water, compressed air, natural gas, high pressure compressed air and argon), complete air distribution ductwork system and exhaust air system. Finally, the Volkswagen plant includes door heaters, gas unit heaters, gas infrared tube heaters, restroom facilities, and three rainwater harvesting systems.

John O’Neil Sr., president of W.J. O’Neil Co., announced that his mechanical contracting firm is installing two new systems at the Volkswagen Chattanooga plant that will help the plant be more sustainable and reduce its impact on the environment.

“Volkswagen and W.J. O’Neil have many common values,” said O’Neil. “Both are serious about environmental sustainability and 21st Century manufacturing.”

Supported by Mitsubishi Electric’s CityMulti System, the first system is a two-pipe zoning system that simultaneously cools one zone while heating another. The CityMulti system is located in the RBII, and dozens of small fan coil units serve specific office areas/computer and data rooms throughout the entire facility.

“This system is the first two-pipe, simultaneous cooling and heating system available in the United States and around the world,” said O’Neil.

CityMulti systems utilize the innovative technologies, giving CityMulti units the same industry-leading COP (co-efficient of performance) classification. These systems offer the merits of flexible installation, energy savings and ultra-quiet operation.

“We sent three of our refrigeration technicians through Mitsubishi’s training program so we could work with Mitsubishi, Comfort Engineering Solutions Inc., to install, start up and service the CityMulti system at the Volkswagen Facility,” said Brennan Nielsen, project manager at W.J. O’Neil.

The Mitsubishi CityMulti system is divided into several separate systems and within each system there are multiple fan coil units throughout the many offices and open spaces. There are numerous control thermostats throughout these spaces that will operate anywhere from one to 10 of the fan coil units depending on the space they are serving. “This allows occupants in a conference room where there might be 15 people at one time (creating a spike in room temperature due to body heat, laptops, overhead projectors, etc.) to have A/C cooling throughout the meeting without turning the administrative assistant in the room next door into a popsicle,” said Nielsen.

The key is the system’s inverter technology. It varies the capacity of the system to meet the indoor space load requirements while saving energy. It varies the speed of the compressor to deliver the exact amount of heating or cooling demanded by each zone. Mitsubishi Electric describes its inverter technology in their system where, “Inverters electronically control the electrical voltage, current and frequency of electrical devices such as the compressor motor in an air conditioner. They receive information from sensors monitoring operating conditions, and adjust the revolution speed of the compressor, which directly regulates air conditioner output. Optimum control of operation frequency results in eliminating the consumption of excessive electricity.

W.J. O’Neil installed all of the plumbing fixtures in the assembly, body, paint, tech Center, RBI and RBII buildings.  All of the fixtures were low-flow flush for water consumption reduction.  Through low-flow water closets and urinals, the plant achieves a 58% reduction in potable water used for sewage conveyance.

W.J. O’Neil also is installing components of a commercial rainwater harvesting system at the new plant. Rainwater harvesting presents an opportunity for augmentation of water supplies allowing for self-reliance and sustainability. Together, these strategies save 1,736,113 gallons of potable water each year. Low-flow showers, lavatory and kitchen faucets further decrease potable water usage, resulting in total savings of more than 3 million gallons of potable water each year.

The plant harvests rainwater from its roof that is collected for use in the sanitary waste system — two harvesting systems are located in the assembly shop and one is located in the body shop. W.J. O’Neil is installing a below grade storage tank with built-in pumps, and all the piping needed to disperse the rainwater for flushing toilets and urinals in three of the plant’s restroom facilities. The rainwater harvesting systems are comprised of 2,000-gal. polyethylene tanks, a 7.5HP inline circulation pump and inline vortex filters — to clean debris and dirt from rainwater before dumping into the storage tank.

Siemens Building Technologies designed and installed the complete building management control system. The complete fire protection system was engineered, designed and installed by Shambaugh & Sons. Partlan-Labadie Sheet Metal Co. fabricated and installed the air distributionductwork. The assembly shop, body shop, paint shop and technical center all are heated and cooled by 45 custom-made air handling units by TMI Custom Air Inc.