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UCLA Team Receives $1.3 Million for Zero-Net Energy Building Materials, Software Tools

A UCLA research team has received a $1.3 million grant from the California Energy Commission (CEC) to identify new materials, methodologies and to develop new software tools for zero-net energy (ZNE) buildings.

The 2008 California long-range energy plan calls for all new homes in the state to be Zero Net Energy (ZNE) by 2020. Zero Net Energy means the home uses only as much energy as it generates, requiring increased reliance on efficient design and materials, as well as renewable sources of power. By 2030 all new non-residential buildings must also be zero net energy.

“These are incredibly ambitious goals,” said Murray Milne, a research professor of architecture and urban design, who is one of four UCLA faculty  members on the project. “Today, many Californians are not even aware of these requirements, and most of them have no idea of how to achieve them.”

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Left: A microencapsulated phase change material (PCM) nodule. Right: PCM agglomerates in a cement paste. [Images sourced from: Fernandes, F., Manari, S., Aguayo, M., Santos, K., Oey, T., Neithalath, N., Sant, G., ‘Preliminary Investigations on the Feasibility of Using Phase Change Materials (PCMs) to Treat the Driving Forces of Thermal Cracking in Cementitious Materials’, Cement and Concrete Composites: CCC-D-13-00381, in review, pp. 19, (2013)]

The goal of the UCLA project is to improve California’s building energy efficiency in a number of tangible ways. This will be achieved through technological advances including: (1) the development of innovative high thermal mass adaptive building materials, and (2) the development of new software design tools to inform and guide building owners on how to achieve ZNE targets.

The new building materials will leverage the concept of “phase change,” or the ability to change from solid to liquid, and vice-versa. This capability within walls and other design elements will allow materials to passively absorb and release heat for maximum efficiency, helping achieve a similar effect as building heating and cooling systems, but without the need for energy.

The cross-campus UCLA team includes: Robin Liggett, professor emeritus of urban planning; Murray Milne; Laurent Pilon, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering; and Gaurav Sant, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and holder of the Edward K. and Linda L. Rice Endowed Term Chair in Materials Science.

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Example of design solutions for energy efficient commercial and residential buildings using software developed by the UCLA team

Sant and Pilon will focus on design, fabrication/characterization and modeling of novel building materials which exhibit phase-change benefits. Milne and Liggett will focus on development of energy design tools intended to help ordinary Californians evaluate more energy efficient homes and buildings. Together, members of the UCLA team will quantify the benefits of these new materials, which should contribute significantly to improving the energy efficiency of buildings.

“The interdisciplinary nature of this project with our colleagues in architecture and urban planning is strategic and necessary,” Pilon said. “It integrates aspects of building design and public policy with novel energy-efficient building materials,” Pilon said.

“This exciting, multi-faceted project will provide California building owners and ratepayers with new technologies to create energy efficient buildings,” Sant said.