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KU Architectural Engineering Team to Take Part in Solar Decathlon 2007

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The University of Kansas is among 20 teams taking part in the 2007 Solar Decathlon sponsored by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy. Mario A. Medina, associate professor of civil, environmental and architectural engineering, will lead KU’s role in this collaborative state effort, which includes Kansas State University and the Kansas Energy Office.

The Solar Decathlon is an international collegiate competition. Student teams compete to design, build and operate highly energy-efficient, completely solar-powered houses that incorporate building integrated photovoltaics, which convert sunlight to electricity.

For an invitation to compete, universities submitted detailed proposals for a diminutive home about 15 feet by 20 feet. Of the 20 teams chosen to advance, each received $100,000 to underwrite the construction of their entry.

The 2007 Solar Decathlon teams, which include some of the world's most notable universities, are competing for pride and recognition of technical accomplishments. Innovations beyond standard photovoltaic cells will be essential to success.

"There has to be something else that makes this a little different," Medina said. "We're going to make it with these PCM walls. The idea is to demonstrate that there are solar technologies that can be integrated into a house" to make it more energy efficient.

The house will feature the Phase Change Material Structural Insulated Panels that Medina's team developed at KU.

"Our work will include design, testing and monitoring of the innovative systems that will enable the house to capture, store and utilize solar energy only, thus removing the house completely off the electrical grid," Medina said. KU architectural engineering students will be a large part of the labor pool to construct the house.

Medina, an expert in building-energy dynamics and Phase Change Materials, explained what might be the unique feature of the Kansas entry.

"PCMs absorb heat while melting, thus cooling their environment, and release heat upon solidifying, which heats the surrounding area. When incorporated into walls, floors and/or ceilings, these materials could significantly reduce peak heat-transfer rates across the enclosure of the building, shift peak cooling loads and reduce energy use in residential and small commercial buildings."

Design of the house and its systems is expected be completed by late summer 2007. In October 2007, teams will transport their completed solar homes to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., where they will be judged and displayed to the public.

Tom Glavinich, associate professor, and Wai Kiong "Oswald" Chong, assistant professor, both in KU"s Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering, will be project co-advisers.

KU students majoring in architecture or architectural engineering will make up the KU team. Cassie Waddell, a fifth-year student from Stockton, Kan., working on dual degrees in architecture and architectural engineering, will lead the team. The efforts of Kansas State students will be coordinated by Todd Gabbard, assistant professor of architecture, and Ruth Miller, professor of electrical engineering, both at Kansas State.

Contest rules require that each house capture, store and utilize enough energy from the sun to operate a household, a home-based business and related transportation needs. The teams are judged on 10 different tests:

Architecture — high-performance and seamless integration of solar and energy-efficient technologies

Dwelling — “livability” and “buildability,” attractive and designed well for everyday living

Documentation — documentation of the design process and analysis of energy performance

Communications — the team's ability to interact with the public through Web sites and house tours

Comfort Zone — steady, uniform comfortable temperature and humidity

Appliances — ability to maintain normal use of full-size appliances

Hot Water — successfully deliver 15 gallons of hot water in 10 minutes or less

Lighting — supply ample interior light using as little energy as possible

Energy Balance — solar electric systems generate only as much energy as needed to complete the contests

Getting Around — the home “fuels” a street-legal, commercially available electric vehicle.



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