Thin-film version of Active Building Envelope (ABE) systems heat and cool all-in-one
Every day, the sun bathes the planet in energy--free of charge--yet few systems can take advantage of that source for both heating and cooling. Now, researchers are making progress on a thin-film technology that adheres both solar cells and heat pumps onto surfaces, ultimately turning walls, windows, and maybe even soda bottles into climate control systems.
Tomorrow, on Wednesday July 12, 2006, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) researcher Steven Van Dessel and his colleagues will announce their most recent progress--including a computer model to help them simulate the climate within their test structure atop the RPI Student Union--at the Solar 2006 Conference in Denver, Colo.
For 4 years, the researchers have been working on their prototype Active Building Envelope (ABE) system. Comprised of solar panels, solid-state, thermoelectric heat pumps and a storage device to provide energy on rainy days (literally), the ABE system accomplishes the jobs of both cooling and heating, yet operates silently with no moving parts. NSF is supporting the team to determine if a microscale version of the technology will function effectively.
Active Building Envelope (ABE) systems are a new technology for space heating and cooling, which integrate photovoltaic (PV) and thermoelectric (TE) technologies. In the ABE systems, a PV system is used to transfer solar energy directly into the electrical energy; this electrical energy is subsequently used to power a TE system. Depending on the direction of electrical current applied to the TE system, ABE systems can operate in a heating or cooling mode, and can compensate for thermal losses or gains that occur through a building's envelop or other thermal enclosure. ABE systems make use of solar energy, a clean and renewable energy resource.
According to Van Dessel, thin-film advances could potentially lead to functional thermal coatings composed of transparent ABE systems. Such systems might vastly improve the efficiency of temperature-control systems.
"The ease of application would make it possible to seamlessly attach the system to various building surfaces," he added, "possibly rendering conventional air conditioning and heating equipment obsolete."
Van Dessel hopes a thin-film version of the ABE system will see uses in a range of industries, from aerospace--in advanced thermal control systems in future space missions--to the automotive industry, where it could be applied to windshields and sun roofs, giving them the ability to heat or cool a car's interior.
"It also may be possible to one day use the ABE system to create packaging materials for thermal control," he added, "which could lead to things like self-cooling soda bottles."
If adopted, could this technology loosen some of the economic stranglehold of oil-producing OPEC countries and that Russia, as a gas producer has as the sole source for residential or industrial heating ?
Also see April 14, 2006; New High efficiency flat light source OLEDs > Almost any surface in a home, whether flat or curved, could become a light source: walls, curtains, ceilings, cabinets or tables.
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