3D Printing to Maintain Cornell’s Eco-Friendly Lake Source Cooling System

Published on May 1, 2024 by Isaac B.

Maintaining sustainability on a large campus can be a complex challenge, as balancing environmental responsibility with efficient operations requires innovative solutions. Last week, Cornell University’s Lake Source Cooling (LSC) system underwent essential maintenance to combat the challenges posed by invasive mussels and debris. This project has seen the integration of innovative 3D printed components, highlighting a collaborative effort among engineers, students, and cutting-edge 3D printing technology.

The LSC system, which leverages the icy depths of Cayuga Lake for cooling, has significantly reduced electricity consumption and overall costs for Cornell University and Ithaca High School. This has saved the institutions more than 20 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year without the use of refrigerants or the release of toxic greenhouse gases. However, the accumulation of zebra and quagga mussel colonies has threatened the system’s efficiency by drastically reducing water flow, requiring periodic, but extensive maintenance to ensure its continued operation at peak performance.

The Lake Source Cooling System of Cornell University.

Typically, the first step of this maintenance process involves hooking chains to the large metal screen of the LSC, submerged 250 beneath the surface of Cayuga Lake. The attachment allows the screen to be raised from the lake floor for cleaning. However, after multiple failed attempts to align the chains with the screen, it became evident that Cornell University required an innovative solution. Turning to the advantages of 3D printing, Cornell determined it to be the optimal tool for enhancing efficiency during the operation.

Led by engineering student Mark Tarazi, the project began implementing the use of 3D printed thermoplastic pieces. This allowed for easy and quick alignment and attachment of the screen to the chains. Tarazi spoke on the project’s success, stating, “It’s really cool to see it in action. We don’t usually get to see the end project or how our part fits into it. It was really meaningful to see that we’re making a difference.” From here, the next step in the maintenance process could be conducted.

A collaborative effort involving engineers, undergraduate students, and advanced underwater robots was orchestrated to clean the system thoroughly. Employing specially designed cylindrical “pigs,” enhanced with 3D printing technology, the team navigated the intricate network of intake pipes with significant accuracy. These automated pigs, roughly seven and a half by 5 feet in diameter and guided by sophisticated algorithms, guided by sophisticated algorithms, systematically scraped and removed the encrusted mussel colonies and debris with ease. This resulted in uninterrupted water flow and improved cooling via the system.

Cornell’s cylindrical “pigs”.

Cornell University’s successful maintenance of the LSC system paves the way for continued sustainable cooling, with 3D printing emerging as a valuable tool for future campus operations. With continued exploration of 3D printing technologies, Cornell and other institutions will likely set a precedent for even more creative, sustainable solutions. To learn more about this project, click here.

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*All Photo Credits: Cornell University

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