Wind powers Oklahoma medical research
BY STEPHEN PRESCOTT
Friday, July 13, 2012
7/13/12 at 2:58 AM
The moment had been a long time coming.
On a windy morning in June, 130 feet above the ground, I helped flip a giant switch. An instant later, a bank of 18 wind turbines, each standing nearly 19 feet tall, began to spin. With that, the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation became the first medical research institute in North America - and, we believe, anywhere - to harness the wind to power our labs.
The idea for the turbines was born in 2008, when we designed our new research tower. This facility was sorely needed, as OMRF had filled every inch of the building we'd called home since 1950.
We sweated over every detail of the new laboratory and clinical space because we knew the building had to serve as much more than a home to our researchers and clinicians. It would also provide them with state-of-the-art facilities that afford them the greatest chance of finding new ways to combat age-old health scourges like cancer and heart disease.
In addition, it should make a bold statement, telling the scientists we're trying to recruit that OMRF is innovative and unique.
Finally, because OMRF's mission is to sustain and improve human life, we wanted to build a facility that would help sustain and improve the life of our planet. But with high-powered microscopes, DNA sequencers and massive freezers that maintain temperatures of 80 degrees below zero, medical research facilities are energy hogs. So throughout the construction process, we focused on lessening our energy needs and environmental impact.
Our architects designed the tower to capture as much natural sunlight as possible to reduce lighting needs. We employed "chilled beam" technology to reduce the energy needed for heating and cooling. We installed motion-activated lights and planted a rain garden made up of native Oklahoma plants to contain storm water discharge.
To crown the project, we added a rooftop wind farm: three rows of turbines shaped like the DNA molecules OMRF researchers study each day. The turbines will create an estimated 85,000 kilowatt hours of energy annually. Venger Wind, the company that built the turbines, says OMRF may now have the world's largest rooftop wind farm.
All told, by generating some of our own energy and making the tower energy efficient, we're cutting our carbon emissions by about 2 million pounds annually and saving the equivalent of 44,000 gallons of gasoline each year. Those are pretty big numbers.
The turbines were made possible by a generous gift from McAlester's Puterbaugh Foundation, represented at the ceremony by its president, Oklahoma Supreme Court Chief Justice Steven Taylor. The foundation's namesake, J.G. Puterbaugh, made his money in coal. So, really, coal had helped bring clean energy to OMRF. "Mr. Puterbaugh," said Chief Justice Taylor, "would have loved the irony."
Now, every time a gust comes sweeping down our plains, it will help fuel innovation at OMRF in Oklahoma. It will help find new ways to prevent and treat disease. Talk about wind power.
Stephen Prescott, M.D., is president of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.
Stephen Prescott: Each gust of Oklahoma wind will help fuel innovation at OMRF