If These Walls Could Heat (and Cool)
Troy, N.Y. - Steven Van Dessel, assistant professor of
architecture at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, is combining
home comfort with energy conservation. His patent-pending
system, called the Active Building Envelope (ABE), incorporates
solar-cell and thermoelectric technologies to turn the walls of
your home into an "intelligent" heating and cooling
Imagine heat silently radiating from the walls of your home on
a frosty night and cool air coming from the same seamless
source on a scorching summer day. This, without ever having to
touch a thermostat, check the pilot light in the furnace, or
hear the constant droning of the AC. To boot, the integrated
system would operate using an endless supply of cheap
"Our approach is new. The ABE will transform the way we heat
and cool our buildings, allowing us to become more energy
efficient while improving the comfort of our indoor
environment," says Van Dessel.
As they stand now, walls, roof, and windows-known in
architectural terms as the "building envelope" - don't hold
much promise for energy conservation. More than 50 percent of
the energy used in a typical dwelling is for maintaining a
comfortable temperature. The bulk of that power compensates for
the energy that escapes through the building envelope.
"The ABE not only solves the heat dissipation problem at its
source - the building envelope - but turns those problem areas
into a chief asset," Van Dessel adds.
The ABE works like this: A photovoltaic (PV) system (better
known as solar-cell panels) is integrated into the outside wall
or roof where it collects and converts sunlight into
electricity. The power is then delivered to a series of mini
thermoelectric (TE) heat pumps. The TE devices, each typically
about one square inch and 1/8th inch thick, are dispersed
throughout the building envelope. Depending on the direction of
TE system's electric current, controlled by the automated flip
of a switch, sunlight is converted to either make your dwelling
warmer or cooler. An energy storage mechanism is also
integrated, to store extra energy that is then used when little
or no sunlight is available.
Over the years, photovoltaic and thermoelectric systems have
been too costly or not very efficient. But recent advances in
the area of thin-films for these systems are making ABE systems
into an economically viable option, Van Dessel says.
Collaborating with other Rensselaer faculty and with industry
partners, Van Dessel plans to build a prototype soon.
CONTACT: Steven Van Dessel (518) 276-2011, firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact: Jodi Ackerman
Phone: (518) 276-6531