The challenges facing humanity in the 21st Century are daunting, and NJIT is training the next generation to lift a heavy load. On and off campus, students and faculty are spearheading projects that will lay the groundwork for a sustainable future. Much of this work involves researching new ways of building that considers the ecologically destructive methods of the past.
What can help make the built environment ecologically viable over the long-term has everything to do with design and materials, both for new and existing buildings. NJIT’s Center for Building Knowledge has been ardent in its pursuit of “opportunistic retrofitting,” home retrofits such as re-siding jobs and window replacements, of which there are an estimated 1 million per year. Buildings in the U.S. account for more than a third of carbon emissions released each year and consume 40% of the country’s energy and 75% of its electricity.
Energy efficiency has as much to do with the grid as it does with building materials. The Center for Building Knowledge built and maintains http://www.microgrids.io, a web resource for planning and developing sustainable, resilient local government microgrids locally and nationally.
“Town Center” microgrids can operate autonomously and while disconnected from the power grid, such as during a weather emergency. The system distributes energy to a cluster of physically separated facilities, often essential services like government buildings, police and fire operations, public housing, shelters and schools. Challenges to wider adoption of microgrids include procurement and financing at the local government level. Microgrids.io shows the results of a multiyear research project, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) through the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, and is aimed at helping those working to make more microgrids a reality.
Meanwhile, researchers at the NJIT’s Materials and Structures Laboratory at the John A. Reif Jr. Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering are using computer models to measure and identify existing and emerging sustainable construction materials that are more durable and conserve energy, thereby reducing carbon emissions. These materials include recycled concrete and fiber-reinforced concrete. The lab is helping the NJ Department of Transportation to identify novel materials that can be rapidly deployed in infrastructure projects across the state.
The Center for Building Knowledge is also working alongside a NJ institution, BASF and the company’s Center for Building Excellence to develop sustainable home retrofit materials for the private market. “Renew-Wall,” a project partnership between NJIT and BSAF, is one of 44 projects across 20 states that are sharing an $82.6 million round of funding from the DOE for projects aimed at reducing energy consumption in buildings and energy demand overall.
An earlier iteration of the project, called “Re-Side Right” saw the development and testing of 1 inch” exterior insulation to reduce home air leakage and increase thermal resistance. One EPA study showed 25% to 40% of money spent on heating and cooling can be lost to infiltration. The Renew-Wall project increased that insulation to 2 inches and incorporates high performance storm windows. Alpen High Performance Products, a glass and windows manufacturer, will help redesign their external storm window for the prototype. For those windows, BRINC Building Products will supply thermal bucking.
“We’re taking something the homeowner is doing anyway and optimizing it for energy efficiency,” said Dean Evans, executive director of the Center for Building Knowledge. “What we’re trying to test is how much improvement you get taking that approach.”
The typical home retrofit occurs once every 25 years, so part of the challenge for NJIT and BASF is to develop materials and get those materials to the market fast, lest they risk builders waiting another 25 years for an “opportunistic retrofit.”
“What we’ve been trying to focus on since we began is not just lab research, but off the shelf products that can be tweaked a bit,” said Christine Liaukus, Housing and Community Development program manager at the Center for Building Knowledge. “The idea is to push towards market transformation. Field research validates these products and brings them to market.”