Published on May 14th, 2010 | by Susan Kraemer


Clever Photosynthetic Breathing Building "Skin" to Cut Need for Energy

May 14th, 2010 by  

Bringing bioengineering to architecture, UCBerkeley Professors Luke Lee in Bioengineering and Maria-Paz Guttierez in the architecture department are pioneering a new type of thin film building membrane, creating a material structured at the nano and micro scale that can substitute for energy used for climate control in buildings.

In a project recently proposed to the National Science Foundation, they are working on a “skin” that works like nature’s skins to control humidity, light and heat in buildings the same way that nature does in our skin, without the use of electricity or mechanical elements.


Their prototype lense for use in their biomimic Self-Activated Building Envelope Regulation (SABER), reacts to changes in the building’s atmosphere by  triggering microscopic openings in the membrane.

The structure at the nano and micro scale will be substituting for energy previously spent to solve the problem of climate control in buildings. “The material has become the system,” says Guiterrez.

The film has two alternating rows of cells providing openings that are actuated by either light from the outside or humidity from the inside. Both types of cells are passive devices that work by material properties, not mechanical or energetic devices.

The first row of cells has micro-lenses embedded in the film that direct light to tiny pockets of photo-activated hydrogels which contract with the light and open up elastomeric microventuri tubes, bringing more airflow into the building when the film is in sunlight.

The second row of cells has a hygroreactive polymer that expands with increased moisture and opens up microvalves to allow more air, like hydraulic mechanisms in nature such as the turgor pressure in the guard cells of stomata in plants.

Wrapping it up on the outside is an external moisture barrier with a hydrophobic nano structure which works like the surface of the lotus leaf to wick water off. On the inside, a layer of desiccant silica gels absorbs moisture from the air inside and is integrated with the self-regulated ventilation system.

Energy used for climate control in buildings is responsible for about a third of the nation’s fossil fuel use. This project could prove a significant pioneering breakthrough that would eliminate the need for mechanical structures – run on electricity – to supply heating, cooling and humidity control.

Source: Inhabitat

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About the Author

writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today and Renewable Energy World.  She has also been published at Wind Energy Update, Solar Plaza, Earthtechling PV-Insider , and GreenProphet, Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times.    Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.

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    In addition to SageGlass, the facility features a variety of other advanced sustainability technologies designed to achieve aggressive energy-efficiency levels and maximum occupant comfort. The CSSC and other facility upgrades on the college campus are the culmination of a $280 million bond measure supporting Chabot College’s ambitious sustainability initiative calling for “green intelligent buildings” designed to achieve a minimum LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) rating of Silver.


    Kevin Gallagher

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