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Technology

Passive Cooling System Could Slash Energy Consumption

Architecture should go far beyond the exoped in the Spanish region of Cataisting urban infrastructure and the existlonia uses its natural ability to
ing heavy mortar systems, says Areabsorb water to provide
ti Markopoulou, a senior faculty
cooling without the use of
member on the project team.
electricity. Students and
Our idea was to figure out
faculty members at the
new construction systems
Institut dArquitectura Avanada
that would allow us to produce
de Catalunya have created a coma more responsive and adaptive
posite material made of clay and
architecture.
hydrogel that they say is
Research on the project
capable of lowering inbegan last summer as part of
door temperatures withthe Institut dArquitectura
in a short period.
Avanada de Catalunyas
The material, a hydrocerammasters program in architecic, features two layers of clay that
ture. Markopoulou serves as the
encase evenly spaced beads of
senior faculty member of the rehydrogel. The beads are exsearch team, which also includes
posed by virtue of openings
the students Elena Mitrofanova,
in the clays outer surface, enabling
Akanksha Rathee, and Pong Santhem to absorb water and moisture,
tayanon. Moritz Begle and Alexanand the subsequent evaporadre Dubor serve as assistants.
tive cooling can help to lower
The proposed passive cooling
energy costs.
system combines the qualities
Researchers say that the faof claya low-cost construccade material could reduce a buildtion material whose natural
ings air-conditioning costs by as much
porosity lends itself to cooling
as 28 percent and that its relatively inexpenand the benefits of a synthetic hydrosive components make it suitable for widespread
gel that is capable of absorbing and retaining
use. They contend that such smart malarge amounts of moisture. Made by
terials can greatly improve building Hydrogel beads sandwiched between clay sur- hand, the prototype clay tiles comperformance by responding to changing faces absorb water, and the subsequent evap- prise two layers, a flat inner layer and a
atmospheric conditions.
orative cooling can lower energy costs.
contoured perforated outer layer. The

T H E I N S T I T U T E F O R A D V A N C E D A R C H I T E C T U R E O F C ATA L O N I A , M A A 2 0 1 3 / 1 4 , H Y D R O C E R A M I C , B O T H

BUILDING facade material being devel-

[36] C i v i l E n g i n e e r i n g M A R C H 2 0 1 5

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2/26/15 4:38 PM

The researchers determined early


on that they would be using hydrogel,
but for the surface layers they tested
clay, aluminum, and acrylic.
layers are separated by a layer of hydrogel beads and a layer of
stretchable fabric that secures the beads in place even as their
mass changes.
The researchers determined early on that they would be
using hydrogel, but for the surface layers they tested clay, aluminum, and acrylic. The tiles being considered were tested
inside closed boxes with temperatures of 35C to 40C (95F
to 104F), and the clay tiles were found to perform best, increasing humidity by 15.5 percent and lowering ambient
temperatures by as much as 6.4C (11.5F) in just 20 minutes.
Our idea was to find a smart material which would have
extraordinary ability as a new material for construction,
Mitrofanova says. Hydrogel belongs to a class of superabsorbent polymers, so it can absorb and swell up to four hundred times. We wanted to use its expanding properties and
its properties of evaporative cooling.
The materials used to make hydroceramic cost about 28
(U.S.$31) per square meter, Mitrofanova says, which the researchers say is low enough for commercial use. They plan to
spend the spring constructing a larger prototype skin, which
they expect to complete in June and test during the summer.
Markopoulou says that additional research is needed to
perfect the design and that the most important question currently facing the researchers has to do with the materials life
span. She points out that since repeated deformation of the hydrogel could take a toll over time, the project team is working with material engineers and construction and ceramics experts to assess its long-term viability and performance.
The researchers also plan to optimize the process of fabricating the material to reduce the manufacturing time and ensure
uniform quality. Markopoulou says that later incarnations could
be made through three-dimensional printing, permitting customized designs tailored in shape and quality to local environmental conditions and particular building orientations.
The researchers say that hydroceramics and similarly
adaptive materials are crucial innovations for the architecture, engineering, and construction industries, which, they
note, have long lagged behind such fields as medicine and
aerospace engineering when it comes to adopting new materials and technologies. Responsive materials can enhance sustainability and performance by transforming static buildings into living organisms, she says.
We need to focus more on new materials and how they
can be applied to intelligent construction systems, Markopoulou says, so that we can envision a future of architecture that is not just inhabited but is also technologically integrated and evolutionary during its time. Its an architecture
that is able to respond to environmental conditions and also
to the users needs.
DAVID HILL

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