Courtesy MIT

MIT researchers have found an unusual source of inspiration for a new passive cooling innovation: camels. Mimicking the way that the humped creatures use their fur as an insulating coat and evaporation to stay cool in scorching deserts, the researchers have developed a two-layer material that could keep perishable items, such as medications or food, fresh without needing power. The system includes a bottom, hydrogel layer that allows water to evaporate, similar to a camel's sweat glands. The material's top layer emulates the fur, keeping out heat while allowing water to escape. "This bilayer design allows for optimization between the temperature drop from the ambient and the effective cooling time, which we demonstrated through both modeling and experiments," states the team in "Passive Sub-Ambient Cooling from a Transparent Evaporation-Insulation Bilayer," published in Joule. "We show that our hydrogel-aerogel structure can extend the lifetime of the cooling package by 400% compared with the conventional single-layer design." [MIT]

Researchers from Nanyang Technological University, in Singapore, are also focusing on hydrogel, this time to bolster the energy-saving potential of insulated glass units. Instead of filling the space between the lights with dense argon gas, the researchers pumped a hydrogel-based liquid into the cavity, creating smart windows that "block the sun to regulate solar transmission, while trapping thermal heat that can be released through the day and night, helping to reduce energy consumption in buildings." The insulator also reduced "noise 15% more effectively than double-glazed windows," according a university press release. "By using a hydrogel-based liquid, we simplify the fabrication process to pouring the mixture between two glass panels," said Long Yi, lead researcher and lecturer at NTU's School of Materials Science & Engineering. "This gives the window a unique advantage of high uniformity, which means the window can be created in any shape and size." [NTU]

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have released a study examining a range of policies and models that might lead to a more equitable distribution of photovoltaic panels in households of different income levels across the U.S. Published in Nature Study, "The impact of policies and business models on income equity in rooftop solar adoption" found three different that would lead to more solar panels in lower- and middle-income (LMI) households. "We find evidence that LMI-specific financial incentives, PV leasing, and property-assessed financing have increased the diffusion of PV adoption among LMI households in existing markets and have driven more installations into previously under-served low-income communities," the researchers state in their paper. "By shifting deployment patterns, we posit that these interventions could catalyze peer effects to increase PV adoption in low-income communities even among households that do not directly benefit from the interventions." [Berkley Lab]

Courtesy Foster + Partners

As part of an early adopter program with the Waltham, Mass.–based robotics company Boston Dynamics, Foster + Partners has taken in a new team member: a tiny, agile robot named Spot. The London–based firm is using Spot to conduct weekly walkthroughs of the firm's Battersea Roof Gardens mixed-use project; the robot scans specific construction areas and collects data from the site. "“The ability of Spot to repeatedly and effortlessly complete routine scans, in an ever-changing environment was invaluable not only in terms of the consistency but also the large amount of high-quality data collected," said Foster + Partners partner Martha Tsigkari in a firm press release. See a video of Spot in action here. [Foster + Partners]

Charlottesville, Va.–based After Architecture, an ARCHITECT Next Progressives firm, has applied the composition of cross-laminated timber to bamboo, creating Smart Cross-Laminated Bamboo. The project, which received a 2019 Arnold W. Brunner Grant for Architectural Research and a SEAD major grant from Virginia Tech, embraces characteristics from CLT and from structural insulated panels to arrange the lightweight bamboo stalks into panels. By sawing off the bamboo's rounded perimeter to create a flat surface for lamination, After Architecture founders Katie MacDonald, Assoc. AIA, and Kyle Schumann and co-investigators Jonas Hauptman and Daniel Hindman, both from Virginia Tech, wove the fibers around the panel core, making use of their high fiber density. [After Architecture]

Adapted from ACS Nano

Researchers from the American Chemical Society have developed a glowing, hydrophobic wood film that manufacturers could use to cover lamps, laser devices, and other electronic displays instead of plastic. Publishing their findings in ACS Nano, the researchers removed lignin—an organic structural polymer—from balsa wood and infused the remaining film with semiconductor nanoparticles that glow when in contact with ultraviolet light. "The proposed optical lighting material could be attractive for interior designs (e.g., lamps and laminated cover panels), photonics, and laser devices," according to their paper. [ACS]

A wind farm in Washington state
Flickr/Creative Commons License/Trevor Bexson A wind farm in Washington state

With President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris poised to lead the country, a meaningful shift in sustainable building practices may occur. ARCHITECT contributor Blaine Brownell takes a close look at the possibilities of Biden's "Build Back Better" infrastructure and climate change plan, which aims to address "the failure of the Trump administration to deliver the significant infrastructure legislation he had touted." [ARCHITECT]

The U.S. Green Building Council has named the winners of its 2020 Leadership Awards. The 10 recipients stand "at the forefront of green building and working to advance healthy, resilient and equitable buildings and communities," according the USGBC's press release. USGBC honored the winners, which included Geoff Morgan, president and CEO of First Community Housing, and Kenya Stump, executive director of Kentucky Office of Energy Policy, on Nov. 11 during the closing event of its Greenbuild Virtual conference. [USGBC]

This article has been updated to reflect that After Architecture is based in Charlottesville, Va. and that its team includes co-investigators Jonas Hauptman (Virginia Tech) and Daniel Hindman (Virginia Tech).