Investigating thermal performance through geometric and thermochromic variations of modular ultra high performance concrete thermal mass system for energy savings in buildings

Lead University: Carnegie Mellon University
PI: Dana Cupkova, School of Architecture
Co-PI(s): Shi-Chune Yao, Mechanical Engineering

About 60% of accumulative US energy consumption comes from buildings’ energy usage. The primary source of such high energy loads stems from overuse of mechanical systems for heating and cooling. Our project focuses on mitigating this overuse by suggesting a new way of thinking about passive systems, and expanding the possibilities of thermal mass and Trombe wall principles in building design. Thermal mass systems work on the basic principle of short wave radiation conversion to sensible heat. In the winter, significant energy savings can be achieved using well-calibrated direct storage of solar radiative energy during the day and its timely release in the evening. In the summer, the mass storage can even out temperature peaks and delay the re-radiation of heat. However, the basic guidelines for thermal mass dictate its configuration: adjacent to the south-facing façade coupled with glazing, while sealing off the hot air. This typically results in unappealing designs, completely blocking the sunlight and views from the rest of the space, and thus renders it to be generally not a well-accepted application.

In collaboration with TAKTL, a company that developed Ultra High Performance Concrete integrated with mold design and architectural element manufacturing, our project proposes to investigate a new modular thermal mass system. This new design will use high strength concrete cast walls of narrow thickness (2-6”) coupled with artistic surface patterning and ports for light penetration. In conjunction with the geometric pattern, we will use a liquid crystal surface treatment with temperature-controlled color changes to further enhance the overall effect. This project is built on previously validated research proving that well-calibrated complex geometries can be used to improve both the aesthetic and thermodynamic performance of passive heating and cooling systems, and buildings’ overall energy performance.

The design and optimization process will be conducted using advanced computational tools, digital and physical simulation and thermal modeling of the complex geometric wall patterns to classify per pattern solar heating and energy release performance, thus enabling TAKTL to develop a new product line and expand its market.