"Cutting Edge" Topic


Ice Rink's Reverse Osmosis Water System Improves Ice Quality and Saves Energy


In a cooperative effort at The University of Vermont, the Departments of Physical Plant and Athletics installed a new ice rink technology at the Gutterson Field House. Known commercially as Pro-IceTM, the Reverse Osmosis (RO) water system removes impurities and leaves relatively pure water for ice making. Pure water creates a higher quality ice surface that reduces overall water consumption and maintenance costs. Pure water also requires less energy to freeze and allows the ice pad to constantly operate up to 4 degrees warmer than with the previous system. For every degree rise in ice pad temperature, there is an estimated savings in cooling of about 6%.


Ice Rink's Reverse Osmosis Water System Improves Ice Quality and Saves Energy

With a desire to create an improved ice surface at the University of Vermont's Gutterson Field House, a team of representatives from both the Physical Plant and the Athletic Department was created to explore the various ice making options on the market. The team traveled to the Montreal Forum and Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto to review their respective systems. The Forum uses a chemically treated water system while Maple Leaf Gardens employs the Pro-IceTM Reverse Osmosis (RO) system. The RO system does not require chemical storage, special safety and handling procedures or chemical waste disposal. The water does not experience wide swings in pH and is less corrosive to pipes and equipment.

After Physical Plant employees prepared existing space at Gutterson, the Pro-IceTM water system, (manufactured, engineered and marketed by Bassai Limited of Burlington, Ontario, Canada), was installed by Culligan Water Systems. The stainless steel heat exchanger, used to heat the water via steam from UVM's Central Heating Plant, and three (3) 500 gallon holding tanks were installed. As the RO system purifies only two (2) gallons of water per minute, the storage tanks were necessary for continuous operation of the Zamboni. A representative of Bassai Limited trained UVM rink personnel in the system's intricacies and operational changes.

The project cost was $28,945 and was paid for with funds designated specifically for energy management projects. To qualify, a project must have a payback of five (5) years or less. With a projected saving of $13,900 per year, the RO system has a payback of 2.1 years. Included in this figure are savings from natural gas, electricity and water sources combined. Fewer ice maintenance hours and preventive maintenance savings from less wear and tear on the Zamboni and pipes were not calculated into this payback figure.

By treating water through a series of pre-filters, a water softener and the RO filter system, 95% of minerals, salts and other impurities are removed, leaving relatively "pure" water for ice making. Osmosis is a process where a lighter solution passes spontaneously through a semi-permeable membrane into a more concentrated solution; plants absorb food and water from the soil in this way. Reverse Osmosis involves applying enough pressure to the concentrated solution to reverse the flow through the semi-permeable membrane and filter out impurities. This technology is being widely used in areas such as sea water desalinization, microelectronics and pharmaceuticals.

By removing such impurities as minerals, organic, color, silica and bacteria, the RO system's pure water creates a denser, harder and better textured ice. The ice is more resistant to chipping, severe gouging and general snow build-up, whether it is used for hockey, figure or recreational skating. Thus, the entire ice thickness was reduced to 0.5 in. -- 1.0 in., and less of a surface was needed to be put down during the season, including the initial "flood." This resulted in a significant reduction in overall water consumption.

This more durable surface also resulted in less maintenance time and decrease in preventive maintenance costs. Both the regulations of ice temperature and sustaining the high quality of ice have become more consistent. Three (3) weeks of hockey camps held in the heat of July and August provided a stern test that was passed without difficulty. Aesthetically, there has been an improvement in ice clarity so that lines and logos are sharper and crisper.

Using pure water for ice making prevents a build-up of minerals at the surface during the freezing process. As the surface freezes last, pure water at this level requires less energy to freeze. The ice pad can now operate 2 to 4 degrees warmer than it did when regular tap water was used. For every degree rise in ice temperature there is an estimated saving in cooling costs of about 6%. Even the temperature of the Zamboni water has been reduced from 160 degrees to 110 degrees, further reducing energy costs.

According to Richard Wolbach, C.E.M. (Energy Management Engineer, Department of Physical Plant), the University has seen only negligible savings through October 1994 because rink employees are experimenting with the new system in order to optimize ice conditions. Since there are many variables that can impact payback results (degree days, ice usage, etc.), it will likely take a complete season before extensive data evaluation can be done.

While the hard data on energy and money savings is not complete, Gordie Leeuw (Assistant Facilities Coordinator, Athletic Department), contends that the RO system has lived up to expectations in terms of a superior quality ice surface. Measured electric consumption data in November and December 1994 indicate that the University can anticipate a 14.5% annual electric saving or approximately $13,900 per year.

With little modification needed to Gutterson and the expert installation and training available from the manufacturer and its affiliate, it is clear that the University of Vermont was wise to take advantage of this energy management technology. As one of the first collegiate facilities in the Northeast to install this system, UVM demonstrates leadership in providing its students, faculty and staff with superior facilities that are energy efficient and environmentally friendly. A common vision and cooperative effort between the Physical Plant and the Athletic Department have made this project an immediate success.


This ice rink technology can easily be applied at other schools since Bassai LTD's Pro-IceTM system offers pre-engineered design, quality construction and professional installation and training of an institution's personnel. Assistant Director of Maintenance, Joe Church, asserts that the system itself is easy to maintain and was installed with relative ease as the new equipment has made use of previously vacant space. Pro-IceTM systems have been installed in N.H.L., Olympic, World Championship, collegiate, community and private arenas worldwide.


The most important aspect of the project is the superior quality of the ice surface. The ice is harder, faster and better textured than ice made with regular tap water. One high school hockey coach attested to the fact that there is a noticeable difference between the ice at Gutterson and the ice at other facilities in the Burlington area. The RO water system helps insure a quality surface regardless of extreme changes in outside temperature, which tend to affect other ice rinks.


The cost of the project was $28,945, but with the projected payback of 2.1 years it qualified for special energy management funds available from the University. The goal of a consistent, high-quality ice surface has been attained and it has paid dividends in several ways. Gutterson Field House opened one (1) month earlier than usual and hosted a charity hockey game that provides all the funding for the UVM Kids & Cops Program. Then two (2) revenue generating camps took advantage of the early opening. The USA New England Regional Bantam Camp for 14 and 15 year-old girls and boys brought 100 bright, student-athletes to the UVM campus. The UVM Summer Hockey Camp then enjoyed two (2) sold-out weeks as youngsters from throughout Vermont flocked to Gutterson. These activities generated new revenues, increased the school's marketing scope and raised community goodwill at a time when all colleges and universities are scrambling to do the very same. Now students, faculty and staff are enjoying the improved surface. The UVM men's and women's hockey teams skate up to six (6) days per week. The UVM figure skating club and faculty and alumni hockey teams are skating on the best rink in the area. Students put their competitive instincts to the test in co-ed, men's and women's intramural hockey and broomball leagues. Others learn the basics in physical education. classes or take a casual skate during open skating hours. Ice provided for Special Olympics skaters and the Toys for Tots Skate with the UVM Men's Hockey Team, focused needed attention on some less fortunate members of the community. The tremendous demand for ice rentals by high schools, youth programs and recreational leagues indicates that Gutterson Field House is the premier skating facility in the area.


The idea for this project arose as UVM Athletic Director, Rick Farnham was watching his son participate in a youth hockey game in Quebec. He noticed that the ice surface looked clear and crisp as compared to the ice at Gutterson. A brief conversation with the rink manager revealed that the use of pure water produces an excellent skating surface while also eliminating the gradual discoloration of the ice over the course of a season, as was occurring at Gutterson. Mr. Farnham conferred with Milt Romrell, Director of Physical Plant; Jeff Schulman, Assistant Athletic Director and Mike Gilligan, UVM Men's Hockey Coach. They agreed that pursuing an improved ice surface should begin. A team of UVM representatives from the Physical Plant and Athletic Departments was then created. Joe Church, Assistant Director of Maintenance, Physical Plant; Don LaCross, Facilities Manager, Athletic Department; Gordie Leeuw, Assistant Facilities Coordinator, Athletic Department; Gus Mastro, P.E., Associate Director of Physical Plant and Richard Wolbach, C.E.M., Energy Management Engineer, Physical Plant traveled to Montreal and Toronto to inspect their N.H.L. facilities. With their extensive experience in the use of pure water at UVM's Given Medical Complex, Joe Church and Gus Mastro, P.E. were vocal in their support of the RO system. The relatively easy maintenance and chemical-free aspects, as well as the projected five (5) year payback, made the RO system the choice for UVM.


Gus Mastro, P.E. -- Associate Director, Physical Plant (12 years)

Mr. Mastro is registered as a Professional Engineer in the State of Vermont, New York, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. His responsibilities include managing all trades personnel, Central Heating Plant operations, Facilities Audit, Asbestos / Lead Management, and Energy Management programs. He is a member of APPA, ASHRAE, and holds a BSME, as well as a MSME (University of Vermont).

Lloyd (Joe) Church -- Assistant Director of Maintenance (8 years)

Mr. Church is a licensed Master Plumber. His responsibilities include managing all trades personnel and the campus maintenance of approximately 4 million square feet which hold more than 110 buildings. He is a member of the Vermont Association of Plumbing, Heating, and Cooling Engineers, as well as APPA.

Richard Wolbach, C.E.M. -- Energy Management Engineer (2.5 years)

Mr. Wolbach is a certified energy manager through the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE). His responsibilities include facilitating UVM's energy management program which include all aspects of energy conservation. He is a member of AEE, AIPE, APPA, and holds a BSEE (University of Vermont).


The installation of the Reverse Osmosis system was complete and the facilities opened for operation on July 22, 1994. Some "final touches" occurred after this date that did not impact the overall quality of the ice surface. Once again, comprehensive data evaluation will be most revealing when undertaken at the end of a complete season.