How can Cheng Kung University reach carbon neutrality in 20 years
May 29, 2022

National Cheng Kung University has announced its ambition to achieve carbon neutrality by 2041, making it the most aggressive public university in Taiwan in this respect. How have they built buildings with no need for air conditioning, and run experiments without using a single drop of tap water?

The April heat in Tainan is already nearly unbearable. But upon entering the Yun-Suan Sun Green Building Research Center on the campus of National Cheng Kung University (NCKU), the breeze seems to flow from all directions.

The space is actually not outfitted with air conditioning.

Pointing to multiple vents on the first floor, Professor Lin Tzu-ping, deputy director of NCKU’s College of Planning and Design, says “The breeze can come in, and it can go out.”

The building is outfitted with three ventilation towers designed in accordance with the principles of fluid dynamics. Simply stated, it allows warm air to rise and pull cool air into the building from all around it. Despite no air conditioning in the high-ceilinged ground floor lobby, one can feel the coolness.

Green building conserves 86% of energy
The green building, also known as the Magic School of Green Technology, has been in use for over a decade, over which time energy savings has been improved from 65 to 86 percent. From conference rooms to the auditorium, the clever implementation of natural breeze and light sources can be seen all around.

Earlier this year in April, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest report, naming seven exemplary green buildings worldwide. The Yun-Suan Sun Green Building Research Center was one of two buildings in Asia noted on the list.

After a half-hour car ride, I reached the Tainan Hydraulics Laboratory, one of the country’s large-scale marine and hydraulics engineering simulation and experimentation bases.

Huang Kuo-shu, a researcher at the Tainan Hydraulics Laboratory, relates that the lab collects rainwater from the roof, which flows into a basement tank. Following purification they conduct their experiments. And after 22 years of operation, “we haven’t used a drop of tap water in any experiment,” he adds.

Based on an array of 17 SDGs (sustainable development goals) set by the UN, the Thames Higher Education University Rankings ranked National Cheng Kung University the most influential university in Taiwan for the second year in a row.

NCKU also ranked second overall among large public universities in this year’s CommonWealth University Social Responsibility survey.

In line with the global trend toward net zero CO2 emissions, NCKU has announced that in 2031, which marks the university’s 100th anniversary, it will increase the proportion of renewable energy production to 50 percent, on the way to achieving carbon neutrality by 2041. These plans distinguish NCKU’s timetable as the most aggressive among public universities in Taiwan.

This is not just isolated talk. University president, Dr. Huey-Jen Jenny Su, relates that NCKU took a practical inventory and examined various factors before setting its goals, in anticipation of leveraging the school’s centennial celebrations to call on more people to help Chung Kung move forward toward carbon neutrality.

According to a CommonWealth magazine survey, NCKU has performed particularly well against various environmental criteria. The one area in which it could use some improvement is the slightly higher electricity usage per capita among students and faculty.

This can be attributed to the over 60-percent ratio of science and medical department students, as the many experiments conducted in these departments place a great demand on electrical power. “This is a built-in disadvantage of NCKU,” reports director of R&D Lin Tsai-fu.

Further, as NCKU lacks a large forested area to offset carbon emissions, achieving carbon neutrality under current circumstances is certainly a challenge. “We need to adjust professors’ research and experiment methodology to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions,” says Dr. Su.

Su gives the example of the semiconductor institute established at the university last year. The professors have taught manufacturing processes and critical materials development for their entire professional lives, but now all processes must be organized along the lines of reduced energy consumption. “Energy reduction must be considered from the research end, and despite the considerable challenges it also presents an opportunity for industry’s transition to low carbon.”

With 10 green buildings already on campus, NCKU now wants to take its experience with energy conservation to other venues.

“Going forward, we will be setting stricter guidelines, such as that new campus spaces in the future must have natural ventilation,” stresses Lin Tzu-ping. After all, devoting additional thought to designing approaches to save energy during the initial planning stages is preferable to paying high electricity costs after facilities come on line.

Ample low-carbon power is also connected to industry. The negative carbon emissions demonstration plant, built at a cost of tens of millions of NT dollars on NCKU’s An-Nan campus, was overseen by Chen Chih-yung, director of the Hui-Zhi Green Technology Research Center. Possessing carbon-capturing technology that can be mass produced, it has attracted interest from the likes of major manufacturers such as China Steel, Taiwan Cement, Chang Chun Petrochemical, and TSMC.

“After converting carbon dioxide to methane, we can derive propane. This is a basic raw material of the petrochemical industry, demonstrating the feasibility of making carbon dioxide into a resource,” offers Chen Chih-yung. Thus it follows that whomever can resolve the issue of CO2 in the future will be an economic power and dominant industry player.

“National Cheng Kung University’s negative carbon emissions demonstration plant, the first of its kind in Taiwan, is a key milestone for Taiwan on the way to carbon neutrality by 2050,” said Vice President Lai Ching-te at the unveiling of the facility late last year, while highlighting NCKU’s important role in Taiwan’s progression toward net zero carbon emissions.

“Sustainability is a value around which society can move forward together,” says Dr. Su, adding, “NCKU’s efforts are meant to affirm this value.”

By Li Hsun Tsai
Photo Source / Chien-Ying Chiu