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This nightclub traps dancers’ body heat to warm and cool the building

Glow sticks optional.

This nightclub traps dancers’ body heat to warm and cool the building
[Images: Michael Hunter/courtesy SWG3]

The Matrix imagined a world where humans were treated as organic generators, with our bodies putting out constant thermal energy used by machines. Now a club in Glasgow, Scotland, has much the same idea.

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SWG3, a dance club and arts venue, is getting a radical retrofit over the next two months, which will allow it to suck up the heat generated by thousands of visitors, store it in the depths of the Earth, and pump it back into the venue whenever it’s not filled by ravers. It will open on November 7 for the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP26).

The idea is being pioneered by TownRock Energy, a company that specializes in heat pump technology (heat pumps allow buildings to be cooled or warmed by rocks deep beneath the Earth’s surface, rather than by electricity and fossil fuels). The SWG3 project uses off-the-shelf components, albeit in a new way that takes advantage of human energy, too.

[Images: Michael Hunter/courtesy SWG3]
“The story is that . . . I like clubbing,” David Townsend, founder of TownRock Energy, says with a laugh. “I’ve done a lot of clubbing.” When Townsend heard through a family friend that SWG3 was considering a green energy retrofit, he jumped at the chance to combine his passions and develop a club-specific heat pump project.

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The way most heat pumps work is that you drill a hole hundreds of feet into the ground. These boreholes are filled with coils, which are long, fluid-filled pipes that act as the conduit between the relatively constant 50-degree temperature of rocks in the ground and the heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning in a building. The idea is that the stable temperature inside the Earth can literally be piped up to balance out the temperature fluctuations during winter or summer in your home. You can see a diagram of how this works at the Environmental Protection Agency’s website.

However, SWG3 puts a new spin on heat pumps. The venue will use air collectors in the ceiling to suck up the hot air put out by clubgoers on the floor. These air collectors are pretty standard, but usually the heat they capture is transferred outside the building.

“That wastes heat,” Townsend says. “Why not capture it and use it? Otherwise, the heating is done by gas boilers.”

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So in the SWG3 build, body heat is siphoned from the ceiling into one of 17 massive boreholes, each drilled up to 650 feet into the Earth. The body heat goes down into these holes, warming the surrounding rocks (which act like heat batteries), and cooling the club during parties when it’s full on Friday and Saturday nights without the need for AC. However, Sunday through Thursday, when the building is used for office and arts space, it often needs to be warmed. During those times, the heat from dancing can be pumped from the rocks back into the building above.

As Townsend explains, the system can change its modes quickly, even allowing the building to be heated until about 4 p.m. on a Friday, at which point its cooling system kicks in as guests arrive. And yes, the energy from people will be plenty to warm the building during the coldest months, when Glasgow averages around 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

“We’re eliminating the gas boilers [altogether],” Townsend says. “This is the heating system for the venue.”

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach

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