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Rigidified Pneumatic Composites: Use of Space Technologies to Build the Next Generation of American Homes

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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

Start: September 15, 2001
Expires: August 31, 2004


Rigidified Pneumatic Composites (RPC) structures are defined as thin flexible membrane structures that are pneumatically deployed. After deployment, these structures harden due to a chemical or physical change of the membrane. Because of this change, such structures no longer require pneumatic pressure to maintain their shape or provide structural stability. As a result, a structural skin is obtained that can be used to construct a variety of three-dimensional structures such as advanced panel systems, simple columns and beams, and complex truss systems.

Current research related to RPC technology is mainly focusing on space structure design. The potential of this class of structures for achieving affordable space systems, robust deployment, very small-stowed volume, and low weight is recognized by an increasing segment of the space structure design community. Previous studies have indicated that RPC technology might also be extremely beneficial for use in residential construction.

For example, RPC technology possesses many of the characteristics of wood light framing in that such structures require no special tools and are low-cost, extremely resource-efficient, and very versatile in terms of design flexibility. In addition, RPC technology lends itself very well to low-cost manufacturing and streamlined technology delivery. However, applications in residential construction differ significantly from those in space; therefore, no direct displacement is possible.

The research and development objective of this project is to investigate the application of rigidified pneumatic composite technology specifically for residential construction. The project proposes to develop and demonstrate a design methodology that allows for rational comparison of Rigidified Pneumatic Composite (RPC) systems with alternate RPC designs and building systems.

The long-term objectives of this grant are to develop commercially viable and environmentally conscious housing technologies that utilize state-of-the-art materials and manufacturing processes. The proposed research is expected to lead to the development of houses that are safer to construct, less expensive to build, operate, and maintain, and will use significantly less resources relative to wood light.

To view additional details on this NSF award, click here.

Content updated on 9/21/2005

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