No Grid Needed: Wall that Heats, Cools


A researcher from the Lund University in Sweden says she has adapted a 19th century construction technique that can reportedly heat and cool buildings, while drastically reducing associated carbon emissions.

Architectural researcher Marwa Dabaieh has re-engineered the so-called Trombe wall, a passive solar building design originally developed by the French inventor Felix Trombe.

Dabaieh’s findings were recently published in the journal Solar Energy. Lund University announced the research Feb. 24.

The vented Trombe wall is an old, yet still popular passive construction technique that requires very little energy to operate, according to Dabaieh.

Dabaieh’s system involves painting a stone wall with a dark grey coating and installing a double-glazed panel with two adjustable vents near the top and bottom. Blankets of sheep’s wool are installed in between the glass and stone.

“The new design uses renewable wind and solar energy to generate cooling and heating in buildings,” said Dabaieh.

“The adjustments have also eliminated the original Trombe wall problem with overheating, which in turn has drastically reduced the total energy consumption and carbon emissions.”

Egyptian Test Bed

Dabaieh tested her adaptation in Saint Catherine, Egypt—an off-the-grid, semi-arid climate.

“In Egypt, fossil fuels account for 94 percent of all energy,” said Dabaieh. “There is therefore a great need for innovative energy solutions to reduce carbon emissions that can also be used in rural communities which do not always have electricity.”

Performance and Aesthetics

In terms of performance, the wall has effectively reduced the energy used for heating by 94 percent, and the energy used for cooling by 73 percent in a residential building, according to the research findings.

The new design has also taken aesthetic aspects of the Trombe wall into account, so that it can be integrated into modern buildings and become an attractive architectural element, she said.

The materials used to construct the wall are local stone, wood and wool, as well as locally produced glass.

“[Saint Catherine residents] have been involved in every step of the process, so that they can easily build the Trombe wall themselves or show others how to construct one,” said Dabaieh, noting that the construction could also provide employment opportunities for youth and unemployed residents.

Dabaieh reports that those who have installed the Trombe wall “have experienced a nicer indoor temperature,” and the installations have generated much interest throughout the community.

Looking to the Future

Moreover, the researcher says the passive ventilation system could be key for a sustainable future.

“In order to overcome future environmental challenges, we must invest in passive, low-cost systems that require almost no energy from fossil fuels. The vented Trombe wall has a great potential for meeting the steadily increasing energy demands without increasing carbon emissions,” she said.


Tagged categories: Aesthetics; Building envelope; Building Envelope; Building facades; Energy efficiency; Europe; Middle East; Research; Solar energy; Walls

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