Skip to content

Home Field: University Of Tennessee’s Thompson-Boling Arena

| Date Published:

About half an hour from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UT) campus is the historic Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). The lab was established during World War II as part of the Manhattan Project. Over the seven decades since the war’s end, ORNL has been among the world’s top science think tanks, working in supercomputing, transportation, climatology, and composite materials. 

“There is probably not a single person anywhere on this God-given Earth that is not impacted by Oak Ridge National Laboratory,” asserted Thomas Zacharia, ORNL’s recently retired director. 

In 2014, ORNL added to its legacy when it participated in a major renovation of UT’s basketball and volleyball venue, Thompson-Boling Arena. The lab’s important contribution to its Eastern Tennessee neighbor was a pioneering LED light fixture known as the Bandit-LEDNA SuperSport. That Thompson-Boling acted as the “test site” for this revolutionary LED light made sense due to the Lab’s geographic proximity and because the UT ranks as its state’s top public research university.

Photo Courtesy ORNL / LED North America

As with all LEDs, the SuperSport luminaires are more energy efficient than traditional metal halide lights in arenas — 85% more efficient. What made them such an advancement is the solution to shortcomings commonly associated with typical aluminum-based LEDs, which create a lot of heat and aren’t reliable if not cooled down correctly. The SuperSport light fixtures make innovative use of graphite foam developed at ORNL that immediately draws heat away from the bulb.

Besides being a better conductor of heat, graphite foam also is about one-fifth the weight of aluminum, which has been commonly used in LEDs. While arena fixtures frequently weigh more than 100 pounds, the SuperSport luminaires are just over 22 pounds. 

These new style LEDs also illuminate more space with fewer and lower wattage fixtures. Thompson-Boling Arena’s prior light installation required 110 1,100-watt bulbs to cover 130-foot candles per square foot. The SuperSport LEDs used 200 foot-candles with only 90 400-watt fixtures.

Photo Courtesy TB Arena

Additionally, these high-tech bulbs come equipped with microprocessors so that individual fixtures can be controlled remotely, further optimizing energy consumption. They also deliver real-time feedback, which can drastically cut down maintenance costs. These financial savings, combined with SuperSport’s performance capabilities, allow venues to book larger, more expensive, and more profitable events. 

Renovations continued through the 2010s at the Thompson Boling Arena, the third-largest on-campus basketball arena in the U.S. The phase completed in 2018 included extensive upgrades to the public restrooms. Not only were the changes aesthetically pleasing to the public, but they also resulted in decreased water usage and other environmental improvements.

UT’s athletic department has also been involved in sustainability initiatives. Going back at least to 2014, the university has participated in the Zero Waste Game Day Challenge. The school’s Neyland Stadium stands as one of the NCAA’s largest football stadiums, with a capacity topping 100,000, and in 2019, it could generate approximately more than 23 tons of waste per game. Consequently, recycling and composting efforts can eliminate a significant chunk of trash from reaching landfills. 

Photo Courtesy 

UT’s athletic department’s “green” mission reached a new milestone in 2023 by having its softball team go Zero Waste for the entire season.

All concession items now are either compostable or recyclable, facilitating the goal of diverting 90% of the gameday waste. Another helpful factor is that the university has an on-campus commercial composting site. 

“That’s not common,” stated Wayne Koeckeritz, a product and zero waste specialist with Eco-Products involved in this campaign. “It is great that they are able to take full advantage of the opportunities that are already there.” 

The plan is to use this softball season’s sustainability project as a springboard to be implemented with other university sports teams and around campus. Beyond helping to improve the environment, there is another reason why this zero-waste endeavor could gain momentum at UT. 

“In changing the materials and procedures in which we handle waste, we found that it will actually save the university money,” said Wyatt Miner, Compost Logistics assistant for the UT Compost Facility, in the “Daily Beacon” newspaper. 


Back To Top