Net zero buildings, which are buildings that produce as much energy as they use, are gaining popularity throughout the world. The earth has a lot of energy to share with us, but actually harnessing that energy is a science that’s still developing. When people are willing to invest in energy manufacturing technologies, scientists gain what is otherwise unattainable inside a laboratory: real world examples in real world situations.
One of the greatest examples of diving deep and making a commitment to sustainability is Lady Bird Johnson Middle School in Irving, TX. By employing geothermal heating, solar panels, wind turbines, rain water harvesting, and smart solar management, the 152,000 square foot school is the largest public school in the country to obtain zero energy status.
They didn’t just dip their toe into producing energy, either, they dove right in. According to Architect Magazine, school officials spent roughly $3.75 million of their $30 million on the design strategies and energy-efficient technologies. So what does $3.75 million earn them? The typically middle school in Texas spends roughly $200,000 a year on energy and this new facility only costs $60,000 a year to operate.
A total of 53 geothermal wells that were 250 feet deep underground were used in the design, accommodating around 590 tons of air conditioning for the building. That totals over 50 miles of 1” pipe. Bosch FHP Geothermal Heat Pumps ranging from 1 to 20 tons were incorporated in the design in order to convert the heated or cooled water from the geothermal wells into conditioned air for the building.
A 65,000 square foot solar plant that contained almost 3,000 solar photovoltaic panels produces about 800,000 kWh per year. By employing all of these technologies, the building not only achieved the aforementioned zero energy status, it was also awarded as LEED Gold Certified.
For more info, check out the video below of the finished product:
There’s no shortage of company’s trying to improve the world’s roadways. Asphalt and concrete each have their own disadvantages, especially when maintenance environmental factors are taken into consideration. Plastic is a major problem for landfills, as well, as it can take an estimated 500 years to fully decompose. One UK company believes they can solve both maintenance and environmental problems through the use of recycled plastic.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is constantly researching ways to improve construction process and materials, like this material 10 times the strength of steel, or this solar cell that’s lighter than a soap bubble, or this “reversible concrete.” This time the Institute is showing off its autonomous robot that can spit out building structures on site within hours.
One of the most challenging issues with modular construction, of any kind, is the sheer size and weight of many of the components that need to be transported and lifted in place once onsite. That presents a specifically tough situation for jobsites that are not easy to get to. Arup, a design, engineering, and consulting team in the United Kingdom, has developed and successfully implemented what they say is the “world’s first modular glass-fiber, reinforced polymer bridge.” You may remember Arup from their testing of a “living wall” scaffolding cover that we wrote about last year.
Snow causes all kinds of travel nightmares and not just on the roads. Snow and ice can cause major airline delays and flight cancellations. Because of these issues (and the large amounts of money to be gained by solving them) several different groups of researchers have been hard at work figuring out ways to reduce and remove snow and ice from pavement without the need for chemicals and snow plows. The first technology to get a full scale test slab installed at an American airport, however, came from Iowa State University professor Halil Ceylan.
Maybe I’ve had my head in the sand for a while (forgive the pun right out of the gate), but I've recently found out that the world is suffering from a shortage of sand. The New York Times reports that the increasing demand of sand from manufacturing and construction in combination with rising sea levels and human development of shores is reaching crisis levels. Sand is used in plenty of construction activities, from mortar to concrete to brick and asphalt. We use a LOT of it. In fact, concrete production takes a whopping 80 percent of all the sand that is mined. So what can we do? One company says the answer is to drink more beer.
Solar roofs are an obviously popular choice for those interested in conserving energy, but traditional panels are extremely clunky and expensive. Tesla and CEO Elon Musk announced last year that they have solved that issue, which the impending release of Tesla Solar Roof, which look like a traditional roof shingle.
3D printing technology faces major issues when it is required to leave the shelter of a warehouse and step foot on a construction job site. 3D printers are extremely large, heavy, and rely on precise calibration for accuracy. Even the first 3D printed office building in Dubai, which was completed last year, had to actually have its components printed off site and assembled on site. But, Apis Cor, a 3D printing company, believes it has created the technology to print a full structure completely on site.
The concept of solar roadways has been in the news a lot recently. Using the millions of miles of roadways throughout the world to also create power seems like a no brainer, the asphalt and concrete we’re using now aren’t really accomplishing anything more than handling the traffic on the road. But, there’s also a very strong reason why those products are used: they’re strong, reliable, and relatively durable. Still, many researchers believe there is a lot of unharnessed potential for roads and the world now has a very strong test subject for the future of solar roadways in Tourouvre-au-Perche, France.
3D printed construction has been on top of the news the past few years, but we have yet to truly see many real world applications of the process. Last year, Dubai unveiled a completed 3D printed office building, which they say was built in only 19 days, but news has been pretty slow until the world’s first 3D printed bridge was completed recently.
It’s no secret that the United States dominates when it comes to LEED certified construction projects. The US actually has more total gross square meters and number of LEED projects than the the other top 10 countries combined, by almost 3 times, totaling 336.84 million gross square meters over 27,699 LEED projects! China, Canada, and India are ranked number 2, 3, and 4, respectively.
The US Green Building Council recently released their annual top 10 list of states for LEED construction in 2016.