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Professor Wins Grant for Research of Energy Efficient Materials

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Mario A. Medina, associate professor of civil, environmental and architectural engineering at the University of Kansas, was awarded a $280,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop the next generation of energy efficient building insulation systems.

Creating more energy efficient insulation systems will reduce use of energy resources and ultimately decrease emissions of greenhouse gases. According to the Energy Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Energy, about 20 percent of the energy consumed in the United States each year is used to power space heating- and cooling-systems in buildings.

The new systems Medina and his research team design will integrate renewable and phase-change materials, or PCMs. PCMs absorb heat while melting, thus cooling their environment, and release heat upon solidifying, which heats the surrounding area. Such materials could significantly reduce peak heat-transfer rates across walls and ceilings, shift peak cooling loads, and reduce energy use in residential and small commercial buildings.

In this project, the building thermal insulation represents the carrier and holder of the PCMs, which are integrated into the insulation during the manufacturing process. This integration is made possible through innovative encapsulation techniques and reformulated fire-retardant mixtures.

A key factor in the project is that the PCM melts and solidifies within the comfort zone in which people operate most buildings. During summer months, the PCMs retain heat until temperatures drop in the evening. In winter, PCMs retain heat from inside the home or building and transfer the heat back to the structure as the material solidifies.

The project represents an important step in the development of low-energy buildings. It also significantly extends current practices by integrating low-temperature energy distribution into the manufacture of high-efficiency wall and ceiling components. The potential benefits to society include a wider range of product choices for consumers, opportunities to save energy, savings resulting from reduced utility bills, and new competitive ventures for manufacturers.

Associate Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering Marylee Southard and Scott White, assistant scientist with the Kansas Geological Survey, will lend their talents to the project as part of Medina's research team. The Central Fiber Corporation, based in Wellsville, also will be involved in the project.

In 2004, Medina's research on phase-change frame walls was among a handful of small-scale, innovative projects to win a $75,000 grant from the California Energy Commission. The Energy Innovations Small Grant Program of the CEC is hopeful the technology can reduce the summer cooling load in the coastal areas of California and thus avoid current blackouts that result from lack of capacity.

Learn more about Prof. Mario A. Medina and his research.



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