Golden, CO

NREL to build $19.5 million research facility in Golden

Margaret Jackson
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory is building a 15,700-square-foot Research and Innovation Laboratory on its campus in GoldenCourtesy of Mortenson Denver

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is building a $19.5 million research facility on its South Table Mountain Campus in Golden.

Designed by Davis Architects, the 15,700-square-foot Research and Innovation Laboratory (RAIL) will provide multipurpose lab space for cross-disciplinary research at the intersection of chemistry, materials science, bioscience and engineering to support energy efficiency and renewable energy research. The building includes 5,500 square feet of flexible lab space.

RAIL will be the first multipurpose on the 327-acre campus. The campus’s other buildings have been designed with a specific purpose in mind, which leads to costly and time-consuming renovation as priorities and laboratory requirements change,” said Bret Cummock, NREL’s project manager for RAIL.

The project is expected to break ground in September and take about a year to complete.

“By design, we’ve created a facility with RAIL that will be able to support a wide variety of research at NREL, so the expectation is that the research conducted in the facility will be diverse and changing with the priorities as we lead the way toward energy transformation through scientific innovation,” an NREL spokesperson said.

In addition to its flexible design, RAIL will have collaboration space both indoors and outdoors that will allow for brainstorming among the researchers. Energy-efficient technologies such as heat recovery evaporative cooling and infrastructure to support future renewable energy technologies will be included in the design. The electrical infrastructure will accommodate a future microgrid, allowing the building to run from completely renewable sources in the figure.
NREL's new building will be able to accommodate up to 50 researchers.Courtesy of Mortenson Denver

Depending on the specific research being conducted and the configuration of the lab space at the time, about 30 to 50 researchers will be able to work in the building, Cummock said.

“The rail facility will bring us a facility that could easily and inexpensively be reconfigured to support a broad range of scientific research,” Cummock said.

Giving the building that type of flexibility makes building it more complex, said Gene Hodge, vice president and general manager at Mortenson Denver, the general contractor for the project.

“To be flexible, you need a lot more utility services,” Hodge said. “You need to be able to subdivide the space and think about what they could be using the building for five years from now.”

The RAIL building will be the fourth project Mortenson has done on NREL’s South Table Mountain Campus. Mortenson previously partnered with NREL to complete the Science and Technology Facility in 2006 and both phases of the Integrated Biorefinery Research Facility — the first in 2010 and the second in 2011. Mortenson has built a total of 95,000 square feet of research space for NREL, which has a total of a little more than 148,000 square feet of lab space on the Golden campus.

NREL, which is a national laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy, has 2,960 employees, postdoctoral researchers, interns, visiting professionals and subcontractors. The organization works to transform energy through science by leading research and development in a wide variety of areas, including advanced manufacturing, bioenergy, buildings, energy storage, grid modernization, solar, wind and water.

NREL’s economic impact on Jefferson County, where its South Table Mountain Campus is located, increased 218% during the seven year span from fiscal 2012 to fiscal 2019, according to a May 2020 analysis by the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

The total economic impact NREL had in fiscal 2019 was $1.4 billion nationally and $875 million in Colorado. The activity is driven by more than $360 million in direct facility expenditures in the state and full-time, part-time and contract workers earning and spending in Colorado.

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