Navigant Research Blog

Healthy Buildings Get a Boost in New Orleans

— November 10, 2014

With the release of LEED V4, the latest version of its green building rating system, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is addressing two major components of health: indoor air quality (IAQ) and material transparency.

The former is not a new concept in buildings.  According to Navigant Research’s report, Indoor Air Quality Monitoring and Management, global revenue associated with IAQ is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of close to 9% between 2013 and 2020.

As for material transparency, addressing the environmental impacts of chemicals and materials in buildings – and their corresponding health effects – could be a game changer.  By partnering with UL Environment, USGBC will make available Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) for equipment and materials used in buildings, making transparent what chemicals are near and around people in buildings.

And not a moment too soon.  At the Greenbuild conference in New Orleans, Professor Andrew Whelton of Purdue University presented his findings that polyethylene pipes used for water conveyance in green buildings have been leaching chemicals into the drinking water – above minimum standard levels.  Plastic pipes are used in green building construction because they use less embedded energy in their production and transportation, relative to traditional metal piping.  The direct health implications are not clear from Professor Whelton’s findings, but they certainly provide evidence that the chemical makeup and leaching potential are components worth tracking in buildings that are supposedly environmentally friendly.

Better Buildings = Better Business

Another point of the building-health connection was released in a report by the World Green Business Council, a partner organization to USGBC.   The report, Health, Wellbeing and Productivity in Offices, starts with the overarching premise that the most expensive part of any building is its inhabitants, accounting for up to 90% of operating expenses (it’s not clear if this estimate holds true throughout the developing and the developed regions of the world).  The report analyzes the associated health implications of building siting, design, and operations on qualitative and qualitative metrics like occupant health outcomes, well-being, and perceived benefits, as well as organizational and corporate financial outcomes.  For example, an office environment that forces employees to walk around can improve their overall health, reducing absenteeism and physical complaints.  Another example: a 2011 article in the journal Indoor Air indicated that relative to standard temperature baselines in an office, employees were 4% and 6% less productive at cooler and warmer temperatures, respectively.

Greenbuild also hosted Acting U.S. Surgeon General Rear Admiral Boris D. Lushniak. Rear Admiral Lushniak challenged the audience to design preventive healthcare into the built environment, making healthy buildings the default, rather than a specialty.  He also advocated for a “Blue Movement” focusing on human health, like the Green Movement addresses sustainability and environmentalism.  Rear Admiral Lushniak ushered the concept of integrating health into building design, function, and operations for the green building community with passion.

 

What “Sustainable Buildings” Really Means

— November 4, 2014

Employing sustainable technologies and models for new and existing buildings is the central challenge of the construction and energy management industries today.  Often, simply defining “sustainability” can be in and of itself a challenge.  The goal is to transform buildings from static pillars of energy use to dynamic environments promoting long-term, low impact solutions to the challenges of high-carbon energy, droughts, and risks associated with climate change.

At the Vision 2020 Sustainability Summit, held as a precursor to the Greenbuild conference in New Orleans, the role of technology in driving this shift was a primary topic.  At the Summit, at least, the definition was clear.  Sustainability was presented as a series of long- and short-term initiatives that will help accelerate the transformation.

In a series of discussions of applied sustainability, the Summit speakers presented a number of innovations and solutions already in design or in the field today.  Starting with the basics, Doug Bennett, conservation manager with the Southern Nevada Water Authority, described water conservation in practice in the desert state.  As people continue to relocate to the drought-afflicted Western states, Bennett pointed out, most residential water is now used for landscaping, not inside the house.  A new frame of mind is needed, he suggested, to ensure that resources will be available in the next decade.  For example, just because fountains and lawns use reclaimed water, that doesn’t mean that the water is “free.”  Reclaimed water is still water and can be viewed as part of the potable water cycle, with admittedly different attributes.

Not Just Sinks

Most of the event was focused on buildings and their potential to be more than the blunt end-use energy sinks they are today.  Steven Winter, founder and president of Steven Winter Associates, talked about how the building stock of the near future is in development now.  It takes time for a construction project to be put in place, and if aspirational goals are to be incorporated, there are plenty of contemporary projects in progress that can address efficient and sustainable design, construction, and implementation.

New financial mechanisms, such Enlighted’s Global Energy Optimization (GEO) financing for capital matchmaking for LED retrofits, are starting to tap the great potential for efficiency savings in existing buildings.  (See Navigant Research’s report, Energy Efficiency Retrofits for Commercial and Public Buildings, for a detailed examination of the drivers and challenges of retrofits in existing buildings.)  Winter also advocates the use of more carrots and sticks for sustainable building operations.  The use of publicly available city-based benchmarking is one such approach; open disclosure by entities like GRESB and Green Building Information Gateway is another.

Every Bit Matters

Paul Torcellini of National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), an early leader in zero energy buildings, emphasizes that every decision in a building’s design, construction, and operation has some energy impact.  That simple realization is frequently overlooked.  One major challenge facing existing and new buildings, including high-performing buildings, is the need to train personnel to ensure that complex system operations (with lofty goals) of a building can be easily carried out.

The other speakers at Vision 2020 made it clear that in order for the ambitious goals of a sustainable, low-carbon, low-energy future to be reached, innovation in materials, processes, and technology must be put into place now.  And the building stock of the future will mostly be the building stock of the present – so investment and attention are needed to get that stock performing optimally.

 

With 3D Technology, You Can Print Your Ride

— September 29, 2014

At the recent International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago, a car was printed in just 44 hours.  A sporty-looking black coupe, the Strati was built using a large-scale printer known as a Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) system.  A BAAM can build products that reach up to 8 feet in length, as opposed to the 1-foot dimension now available from desktop commercial 3D printers or at your nearby UPS Store.  Printing the body of the car in carbon-reinforced ABS plastic live at the conference, the demonstrators showed the utility of 3D printing for industrial and commercial products.  Not that cars can or will be mass printed anytime soon, but the cost and time in the engineering design process, from concept to design to prototype, can be reduced for high-end industrial products.  The likelihood of seeing a Strati roll down your street anytime soon is very, very small.  Perhaps if the Strati was printed with carbon fiber or other strong materials from new arrival MarkForged, coming across one in public would be more likely.

The use of 3D printing in the automotive industry is increasing, even though automakers have been using advanced manufacturing for decades.   Ford has used 3D printing for testing axles, brake rotors, and cylinder heads.   General Motors (GM) recently highlighted the use of 3D printing to prototype parts for the 2014 Chevy Malibu, both inside and out.  At GM’s Rapid Prototyping lab, the front end was redesigned, printed, and tested for aerodynamics in the wind tunnel, cutting costs and saving time.  Inside the car, designers are using 3D printing to test the visual look and accessibility of parts like internal trim and seat-back panels.  Yet, it took an act of nature for GM to make waves in the 3D printing world.  In early September, a rainstorm caused flooding in GM’s Rapid Prototyping facility in Detroit, Michigan, ruining equipment.  As a result, GM purchased over $6 million worth of 3D Systems products, including the iPro 8000 Stereolithography printer.  In the small 3D printing world, this is large, as it validates the value of the small form factor 3D printer.

Auto API

Other manufacturers are showcasing the use of 3D printing.  A scaled-down version of Toyota’s FT-1 concept car, presented in April at the New York International Auto Show, now seems like old news.  At first glance, the same appears true for Honda printing 3D versions of its concept cars.  Yet, Honda is going one step further by making the printing plans (the computer-aided design [CAD] files) available for free download, in the hopes that fans will print their own designs, creating a new kind of conversation between designers and consumers.

The most interesting deployments of 3D printing in cars are still in the concept stage.   As part of his master’s thesis at the Umea Institute of Design in Sweden, Erik Melldahl worked with BMW to design the Maasaica, an off-road coupe designed for rural Africans.  Printed from a biodegradable material composed of mycelium mushrooms and grass, the material can be grown in a number of days.  The car would collect ambient water for cooling and local uses, and it would be connected to the Internet.  Melldahl’s bushmobile highlights how 3D printing is changing industry – by enabling the redefinition of what a car is, how it’s made, and how it interacts with its environment and its users.

 

Building Sensors Reach Vanishing Point

— September 9, 2014

Sensors play a critical role in building operations, from safety and security to optimizing building system performance.  Building energy management systems, lighting controls, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are slowly incorporating more sensors as their prices fall and their values rise.  Navigant Research’s report Advanced Sensors in Smart Buildings delves into the future of the market for sensors that have built-in processors, networking capability, and the capability to sense more than one phenomenon at a time.  Yet, as design elements in rooms and ceilings, most sensors, like the traditional thermostat, are unappealing appendages with little aesthetic value.  The good news is that the ugly boxes and knobs are shrinking and may disappear from view altogether.

Redwood Systems (acquired last year by networking company Commscope) recently released its third-generation light and motion sensor.  Redwood’s approach is to capture fine-grain occupancy and light levels to deliver lighting precisely to those in offices who need it, when they want it, even with shifting levels of sunlight.  Its lighting solution and accompanying open application programming interface (API) were deployed at the San Francisco headquarters of the software management firm GitHub, then promptly customized to enable the employees to tailor light levels as they see fit.  Redwood’s sensor looks like a small lump on the ceiling and can even be embedded in LED lighting systems themselves.

Sense of Control

The next generation of sensors may not look like anything.  New materials and manufacturing techniques will hide sensors from view, either embedding them in equipment or as objects to paste on surfaces as needed.  Imagine living in a house with smooth walls and ceilings.  No light switches or thermostats in view, other than as decorative objects.  Norwegian company Thinfilm has developed a printable temperature sensor that can function as both a temperature sensor and display for a myriad of applications.  Funded by PARC, Xerox’s research arm, Thinfilm has focused its efforts on thin labels for consumer products (like produce) that have tight temperature and lifetime tolerances.  Thinfilm has also developed advanced ID cards for people that can display names and access levels to different locations.  With data storage and near-field communications capability, Thinfilm’s products have the potential to leap from smart temperature labels to flat room temperature sensors with built-in displays and network communication.

The French company ISORG is also developing a technology using printed sensors.  Its flat light sensors are designed not for occupancy or light level applications, but for applications where light level variances can be used to control equipment, like consumer devices.  And it just received $8.7 million in financing,  bringing new attention to the printed sensor space.  This technology may jump into equipment themselves, like HVAC fans and pumps, where minuscule sensors can enable more granular control and system optimization.

 

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