Louis Albright joins Hall of Fame

For Louis D. Albright, the road to the 2008 Rural Builder Hall of Fame award in the educator category wasn’t such a long journey. He says his interest in the engineering specialty that brought him to the post-frame/agricultural/rural building world “just happened.”

Growing up on an upstate New York dairy farm, and with a talent and interest in science and engineering, Albright began to discover his niche when he took an air conditioning/refrigeration course as an undergraduate.

“That course seemed to light a spark,” he says. “I had enjoyed my heat transfer and fluid mechanics courses and was always interested in weather and related topics, and building environment control seemed to pull it together.”

A professor in Cornell University’s Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering, Albright accepted his award at the 2008 Frame Building Expo in Columbus, Ohio. He was nominated for his work in structures and environment, particularly environmental control. Albright’s work in dairy, swine, poultry and greenhouse facilities and the energy efficiency of ventilation fans and the concept of the Ventilation Efficiency Ratio is an industry energy efficiency standard for agricultural fans.

His approach to treating the design of ventilation in livestock and greenhouse facilities as a total system incorporating air inlets and fans is now an ASABE-published textbook standard.

However, when he first got started at UC Davis and then at Cornell, the focus was animal housing.

“That is when I did the ventilation and other work mentioned in the award. In the early ‘80s I began to become involved in environmental control for greenhouses, which is where I have done most of my work for the past decade. We are working toward development of greenhouse vegetable production systems (lettuce, spinach, etc.) for local production, year-round, in climates such as upstate NY, using energy in the most effective and efficient way.

Something mundane and practical, however — the emerging understanding a decade ago that energy shortages soon would impact the availability of fresh vegetables in New York during the winter — pushed Albright to help create avenues for farmers who could not compete because of poor soil and climate.

He says, “We did not wish to subsist for nine months a year on rutabaga and turnips from Maine. Especially me!”

Albright’s engineering  career took a detour to Germany where he served on active duty and fulfilled an Army ROTC commitment during the Vietnam years.

He received his PhD at Cornell, then went to UC-Davis. He was enticed back to Cornell when the new animal science research and teaching facility (Cornell’s large animal science research farm) opened and a livestock engineering position was created in the ag engineering department. That work in the ag engineering department helped spark Albright’s interest in the post-frame construction industry.

Over the years, Albright’s work covered computer modeling of air flows in buildings, ventilation fan efficiency, dairy cow behavior, developing data and design and control methods for slotted inlet ventilation systems, as well as computer modeling of building temperature responses to weather, and computer modeling and control of natural ventilation processes. Other items to his credit include controlling the greenhouse daily light integral for energy efficiency and lowest cost, and controlling greenhouse light and carbon dioxide for maximum energy efficiency.

Today, Albright teaches two renewable energy systems courses to junior and senior engineering students and students from other disciplines.

The world’s progress in gaining energy efficiency and controlling the environment in ways designed to protect it, says Albright, is driven by energy and the price of energy. “That’s the real motivator,” he says.

“People can say ‘we care about the earth or the cow or the plant, but it’s tough to do much until the price (of energy) is high,” he says. “The average person doesn’t relate (to the global picture), only to the cost of his or her own heating oil. The farmer or greenhouse grower relates better, but nobody worries about their neighbor.”

The lesson people have to stop avoiding is the connection between war and fuel prices, he says.

As energy gets more expensive and more research is poured into developing renewable sources, solutions will come, he says. But they’ll always be expensive.

And while ethanol from corn is one of these solutions, it won’t meet the need by itself, “even if you took the entire available corn production area.” In fact, he says, “If people just kept their auto tires properly inflated, that would do more to conserve energy than corn-based ethanol.”

No single solution will solve the problem, he says. But a variety of solutions together make sense. “If photovoltaics can save maybe 15 percent, it may not seem significant; but if six alternatives each contributed 15 percent, we’d be almost there.” n

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