The University of Pennsylvania has been selected to receive $2.4m in funding from the US Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).
The funding is part of the ARPA-E HESTIA program, which works to overcome barriers associated with carbon-storing buildings, including scarce, expensive, and geographically limited building materials.
The goal of the HESTIA program is to increase the total amount of carbon stored in buildings to create carbon sinks, which absorb more carbon from the atmosphere than released during the construction process.
The University of Pennsylvania, in collaboration with Texas A&M University, the City College of New York, KieranTimberlake, and Sika, will use the fresh funding to design carbon-negative, medium-sized building structures by developing a high-performance structural system for carbon absorption and storage over buildings’ lifespan.
Masoud Akbarzadeh, director of the Polyhedral Structures Laboratory and an assistant professor of architecture at the Weitzman School of Design, explained: “We’re taking a multi-scalar approach to minimise the impact of using concrete, which is the most ubiquitous construction material globally.
“While on the macro level, we are introducing an innovative, efficient structural system, on the micro level, we are reinventing the recipe for concrete to absorb carbon.
“The results of this research could be applied to a comprehensive building design strategy for all kinds of buildings.”
The team will use a novel carbon-absorbing concrete mixture as a building material, and design and assemble a high-performance structural system with minimised mass and construction waste, and maximised surface area.
The parts will be prefabricated using robotic 3D printing technology.
Shu Yang, chair of the materials science and engineering department in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, said: “Geometry is what makes our team’s designs unique, in both the printed structures and the formulation of the carbon-absorbing concrete.
“By also using bio-based materials, our structures will not only store carbon, but also offer enhanced load-bearing capabilities.”
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According to the researchers, designing the right geometry reduces the amount of concrete used, and the consequently carbon emissions.
The increased surface area of the novel concrete structure is also beneficial for achieving comfort temperature ranges indoors through thermal mass heat storage.
“The novel construction system will combine strategies to exploit thermal mass with adaptive envelope, and electrified building systems including heat pumps, to reduce operational carbon emission over the building’s life cycle,” explained Zheng O’Neill, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Texas A&M University.
The team will utilise Building Information Modeling (BIM)-integrated life cycle analysis (LCA) feedback loops to identify the combined strategies to ensure carbon negativity on a cradle-to-gate and cradle-to-grave basis.
“Our transdisciplinary team will engage the development of materials and systems holistically, developing LCA workflows to understand how components of the building contribute collectively to carbon negative design,” concluded Billie Faircloth, partner and research director at KieranTimberlake.
Image: The Boston University Centre for Computing and Data Sciences will be the city’s largest carbon-negative building when it opens this year (credit: KPMB Architects)
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