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Facilities Management wins the 2021 IDEA Innovation Award

October 28, 2021

Jonathan Ragland and Dusty Buck holding a vacuum chamber
Chiller Plants team members (l-r): Jonathan Ragland and Dustin (Dusty) Buck, both senior HVAC mechanics, were instrumental in the success of the automated chiller tube cleaning systems. They hold a vacuum chamber that the Chiller Plants team designed and fabricated in-house that removes air from the systems’ cleaning balls. This allows the balls to be better saturated with water and more efficient in cleaning the pipes.

In 2014, Facilities Management’s Chiller Plants team was presented a little-known technology, designed to automate tube cleaning and tube fouling prevention in their chiller condensers, and was interested in testing the overall impact to chilled water plant operations. Seven years later, the department’s decision to innovate led to widespread technology adoption at UVA. Seven of the chiller plants at the University are presently using automated tube cleaning systems which have helped the plants run more efficiently.

At the IDEA2021 Annual Conference in Austin, Texas, the International District Energy Association (IDEA) presented UVA Facilities Management the coveted 2021 IDEA Innovation Award for their submission, Automated Chiller Tube Cleaning Improves Chilled Water Plant Efficiency.

“The Chiller Plants team at the University of Virginia is honored to have been recognized this year by IDEA,” said Chiller Plants Associate Director Justin Callihan, who submitted the application to be considered for the award. “While the initial vision and strategy that led to this point was conceived by just a few, it took a true team effort to stay the course. Without adoption by operations and maintenance personnel, efforts like these can, and often do, fall short of their intended target.”

Automated tube cleaning system
The automated tube cleaning system prepares to send balls through the pipes.

“Not only did the team members adopt the new technology initially, they supported the additional installations in a multitude of ways and have even made some enhancements to systems,” said Callihan. “In an industry where success often means no one knows you exist unless something bad happens, it can be difficult to find innovative solutions that are worth the risk. This was a perfect example of a low risk and elegant solution to a well-known issue.”

The award was presented in person at the IDEA Networking and Recognition Lunch to Paul Zmick, director of Energy & Utilities.

To learn more about the University’s chiller plants and the staff who keep the plants operating, visit the University Chillin’ online story.

About the IDEA Innovation Award

Paul Zmick receiving an award
IDEA Innovation Award Committee Chair Bob Smith (l) presents Paul Zmick, director of Energy & Utilities, with the award.

The IDEA Innovation Award showcases examples of technology, engineering and operational innovation within the district energy industry. Presented annually at IDEA's Annual Conference & Trade Show, the award is evaluated in four main categories:

  • Ingenuity: the technology has to be a new technical, business, or operating practice that shows ingenuity.
  • Measured Success: the technology must be working for a sustained period of time with demonstrated efficiency success that can be measured.
  • Replicable: the innovation must be replicable, meaning that this idea can be easily applied elsewhere.
  • Economic & Environmental: the innovation must demonstrate economic and environmental benefits.