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Seawater may help cool UCSD campus

Seawater may soon be used to cool classrooms and dorms. UCSD's innovative Seawater Air-Conditioning (SWAC) project would draw cold canyon water from a mile off the coast of La Jolla and use it to fuel the campus' air-conditioning system.

UCSD is working on determining whether the project is feasible and estimates installing the technology will save $4 million each year in energy costs and 100 million gallons of potable water, said David Weil, director of Building Commissioning and Sustainability at UCSD.

In a technical feasibility study it was determined that the project would pay for itself within roughly 15 years, Weil said.

"I think this will be very exciting if it can work here," Weil said. "I hope it will be an example."

The project would require tunneling a pipe into the cold canyon where the water will be both drawn and discharged. The pipe would convey the water to the campus' central chill water system where it would help aid in cooling before being sent back out to sea.

The process does present some environmental challenges. The university would be required to tunnel the pipe underneath an area of biological significance to avoid disrupting the fragile ecosystem.

Also, the water sent back out to sea would be slightly warmer than that brought in.

"It is important to emphasize that we are not going to do this if it does not make sense environmentally," Weil said.

The project will not be the first of its kind. Seawater air-conditioning has been in place for years in Stockholm, Sweden, Bora Bora and Honolulu.

It can be implemented anywhere there is water 50 degrees Fahrenheit or colder, which is usually found below water with a surface temperature of less than 80 degrees.

The technology also has the possibility to draw upon other water sources.

Cornell University has been utilizing similar technology, drawing water from a lake since 2000.

While UCSD's project is innovative, it may also prove costly. If the university determines SWAC is feasible, it plans to apply for private grants to help fund the project, Weil said.

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