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Active Building Envelope for Energy Self-Sufficiency: Design, Optimization, and Experimental Validation

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

* Steven Van Dessel, Principal Investigator
* Achille Messac, Co-Principal Investigator

Start: September 15, 2003
Expires: August 31, 2006


Space conditioning currently accounts for over 50% of the energy used in the average American home; the bulk of this energy is needed to compensate for energy losses that occur through the building envelope. This research effort deals with design, optimization, and experimental validation of a novel Active Building Envelope (ABE) system for use in housing. The ABE-system will actively use solar energy to pump heat in the direction opposite to the passive heat conduction direction. This approach will effectively eliminate the need to supply other energy sources to thermally condition houses. This multi-functional ABE-system involves the integration of energy receptor, transducer, storage, control, and distribution technologies into the building envelope.

The research will take three years to complete, and will involve three phases.

  • The first phase will involve the development of representative ABE-system engineering and economic computational models, and the subsequent optimization of these models using the physical programming optimization method. A complete house will be considered.
  • During the second phase, we propose to validate the modeling and optimization results through testing of an ABE-system prototype.
  • During the third phase, we propose a comprehensive evaluation of the ABE-system modeling, optimization, and testing effort. The research will proceed in close collaboration with Solid State Cooling Systems Inc., our industry partner, who has made a commitment to provide significant support.

Intellectual Merit: Conventional strategies to mitigate thermal losses or gains in building-envelopes rely on passive insulation approaches. Separate heating and cooling systems then compensate for energy losses or gains that do occur. The proposed ABE-technology will actively tackle the heat dissipation problem at its source (i.e. the envelope). This approach is completely new.

The outcome of our research will establish the intellectual framework needed to accomplish economically viable ABE-systems applicable to both existing and new American houses. The impact ABE-technology will have on American society and economy is very broad. For example, ABE-technology will:

  • reduce US foreign energy dependence;
  • reduce heating and cooling costs for American families;
  • reduce environmental pressures associated with the exploitation of fossil energy sources.
  • accommodate more accurate control over indoor thermal comfort levels, which will result in more healthy and productive environments.

View additional details on this NSF award.

Content updated on 3/18/2004

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