Thursday, August 11

Skin-Like Building Technology from UC Berkeley Could Lead to Zero Energy Air Conditioning

Since 1880, according to research from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, global median temperatures have increased by 1.5°F. While that might not seem like much, the shift in temperature is having a staggering effect on oceanic water levels, crop development, and weather patterns. It’s also a driving factor behind a huge increase in the number of people across the world using air conditioning.Hoping to stem demand and do its part to fight off the forces of climate change, the University of California-Berkeley has developed a new technology that effectively air conditions structures without using a single watt of energy. SABER, as the tech is known, emulates skin to regulate air and light flow into buildings. The skin automatically senses changes in light and temperature, opening and closing pores, not unlike those in the human epidermis, to regulate temperature — no energy required. UC Berkeley hopes that SABER will be widely adopted in developing nations that lack the wherewithal to develop and implement green building options for themselves.

Rising Financial, Ecological Costs Drive Demand for Smart Options
While UC Berkeley researchers may have developed the technology in hopes of filling a need for developing nations, particularly those in the tropics which are most in need of cheap cooling options, the skin-like technology could be implemented in developed countries, as well, to reduce the costs, both financial and ecological, of growing demand for air conditioning.

“Green technology and especially passive technologies like SABER will have a huge effect in the new home and commercial building industries.,” says Guy Semmes, President of Hopkins & Porter, a design build firm in Washington, DC. “In growth areas in the south where AC has made growth possible we have the chance now to reduce the need for power at the end use, the building. There has been a lot of work done on saving or capturing heat in buildings but very little on cooling and this is where a large part of the cost of maintaining a building is going.”

Globally, a report from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies shows, demand for air conditioning has shown huge jumps from year to year. From 2010 to 2011, for instance, demand increased by 13%, and it continues to grow today. In the United States alone, $22 billion is spent on air conditioning annually, accounting for at least 15% of all the energy used in American households each year. SABER membrane technology could represent a viable option for deflating this growth, both at home and abroad.

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