MIT team finds that the ratio of component atoms is vital to performance.
Leon R. Glicksman, professor of architecture and mechanical engineering at MIT, is the leader of a four-year project funded bythe Alliance for Global Sustainability (AGS) to assist Chinese architects and developers in designing more energy-efficient buildings.
Begun in 1998, the project emphasizes development of simple, generic solutions that are appropriate to the local area, are very cost-effective and will be accepted by the local people. Buildings being designed in this project could reduce summer energy consumption by as much as 50 percent in China.
Current estimates say that by 2015, the public and private sectors of China will generate more CO2 emissions than the United States, primarily from energy consumption.
Buildings are projected to account for about one-third of total Chinese energy consumption. The Chinese are currently building about 10 million new residential units per year (the United States builds about 1 million), and many Chinese developers are interested in "sustainable" buildings -- that is, buildings requiring lower energy consumption, fewer energy-intensive materials and nondestructive construction techniques.
"If you're really interested in reducing CO2 around the world, doing more work in the developing world is going to have a much larger impact than all of the things people may do in the Western world," Professor Glicksman said.
In addition to Professor Glicksman, the research team at MIT includes Associate Professors Qingyang Chen, Leslie K. Norford and Andrew M. Scott and Assistant Professor John Fernandez, all of architecture.
The team is helping create large-scale demonstration residential buildings in China combining innovative design and technology. Several prototype designs of energy-efficient systems and buildings are being developed for Shenzhen, Beijing and Shanghai. Sponsored by the Beijing city government in conjunction with a semiprivate developer, the larger of the two projects near Beijing is targeted to house 250,000 people.
The project, initiated with support from the Kann Rasmussen Venture Fund and the AGS, is a cooperative initiative involving Tsinghua University in Beijing, Tongji University in Shanghai, the University of Tokyo and the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology, together with several Chinese developers. The latter two universities and MIT comprise the AGS partner institutions.
The groups have scheduled workshops for 2001 in Beijing and Shenzhen, where researchers will teach Chinese participants about available and relevant tools for sustainable buildings. The researchers are also developing a design manual for future developers to help the Chinese designers and builders become self-sufficient.
The researchers are aiming at not only the technical side of sustainability, such as energy efficiency and indoor air quality, but also sustainable design in the architectural sense, by developing a feeling of community with elements such as streetlight plans, shops and children's play areas.
The AGS is doing the conceptual design, while the detailed design is being done by the Tsinghua University team, which is familiar with the local building codes.
"It quickly became evident that what we wanted to do was good design -- simple technology to start out with, like shading and ventilation -- before embarking on more complicated features. This included finding a way to insulate the walls. Some buildings in Beijing have little if any insulation, even though it's very cold at times," said Professor Glicksman.
The project is multidisciplinary, involving architectural designers and technologists, engineers, faculty, researchers and students. "It's been a very good educational vehicle," he said. "We have conducted workshops where we've brought in engineering and technology students who will become professional architects and designers. Now we're moving toward the implementation phase."
The researchers have spent much time in China, working with local people to come up with solutions. "We're working directly with developers who are actually building projects," said Professor Glicksman. "It's not a theoretical kind of exercise."
Other MIT projects in China have the same pragmatic philosophy, including a project on reducing emissions from coal-fired boilers in small- and medium-sized industry (Associate Professor Kenneth Oye of political science and Professor Emeritus Jï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½nos Beï¿½r of chemical engineering), a coke-making project (Professor Karen Polenske of urban studies and planning), and an electric power systems project (research engineer Stephen Connors of the Energy Laboratory).
In September 2001, Chinese research collaborators will analyze the performance of the Shenzhen project. After construction is complete, MIT will do an assessment for any flaws in materials, construction or building operations.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 4, 2001.