Lab Snags $4M for Efficiency Research


Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory will be stepping up research on energy efficiency in buildings thanks to grants of more than $4 million from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The money will go to fund research on three specific topics, including a “super insulation” that utilizes nanotechnology. Other projects include updates to Berkeley’s THERM software for building envelope analysis, and a project to improve control systems for commercial buildings.

The DOE grants come courtesy of the Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, which provides grants to businesses, universities and other entities to further learning in the realm of efficiency, renewables, transportation and related matters.

Nanoparticle Insulation

A $1.5 million grant will go to fund research into insulation created with nanoparticles, designed to stop heat transfer. Berkeley Llab scientist Ravi Prasher, who is working on the project along with Wei Tong, says that the ideal type of nanoparticle is the right size, has the correct “acoustic mismatch,” and involves just the right surface chemistry.

“An optimal combination of these three things can dramatically reduce thermal conductivity and give you something similar to aerogel,” Prasher said.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, in Berkeley, CA, is part of a national laboratory system supported by the Department of Energy.

The scientists aim to come up with just the right nanoparticle formulation so that the insulation will match the low thermal conductivity of aerogel insulation, but will be more sturdy, and won’t require supercritical drying, a costly part of aerogel manufacture.

The scientists believe that they can develop a material that will supersede aerogels in terms of both efficiency and cost.

“We believe our insulation will have the same performance as aerogel at half the cost, and mechanically it will be at least 10 times stronger than aerogel,” Prasher said.

THERM Update

THERM, a widely used software developed by Berkeley Lab for the analysis of the thermal performance of the building envelope, will get an update thanks to a $1.25 million grant from the DOE.

The money will be used to revise the THERM software to perform moisture analysis in addition to analyzing thermal performance.

Berkeley scientist D. Charlie Curcija notes that energy-efficient buildings must also be especially moisture-resistant, to prevent mold growth.

“To be able to analyze moisture while optimizing envelope thermal properties will lead to design of buildings that are not only more energy efficient but also longer lasting,” Curcija said.

Building Controls

A $2 million DOE grant will go to fund research on how to improve the function of control systems in commercial building in order to keep energy use to a minimum. The research will address systems like heating, air conditioning, ventilation and lighting.

“Our tool, OpenBuildingControl, will allow the designer to run simulations to find the most energy efficient strategy before actually building the building,” lead researcher Michael Wetter said. “It will then translate the simulated controls into sequences that can run directly in the building control system. This will reduce installation cost and provide assurance to the building owner that controls are implemented and installed as designed.”

Program Information

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, in Berkeley, CA, is part of a national laboratory system supported by the Department of Energy. It is managed by the University of California.

The Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy was allocated just over $2 billion in 2016 for its pursuit of improvements in efficiency and renewable sources of energy.


Tagged categories: Building envelope; Building Envelope; Energy efficiency; Grants; Insulation; Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; North America; Research; U.S. Department of Energy

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