University City

March 15, 2013

UNC Charlotte team is building eco-friendly house

UNC Charlotte just got a little bit greener.

UNC Charlotte just got a little bit greener.

UNCC’s Solar Decathlon team is applying innovative technology to real-world use by creating sustainable, eco-friendly housing.

With technologies such as recycled concrete and passive cooling and heating, the team will build a house that is both aesthetically pleasing and environmentally responsible, team members said.

The home construction is part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon competition, which takes places every two years. UNCC, which competed in 2002, was one of 20 collegiate teams from across the globe chosen to compete. Schools from Austria, Canada and the Czech Republic also will compete.

The UNCC team was chosen in September 2011 and was awarded $100,000 from the Department of Energy to plan, design and build the house, team members said. The total cost of the project is about $300,000, and the team has received sponsorships from companies like Bosch, Duke Energy and Electrolux to help fund the project.

According to the Department of Energy website, the objective of the competition is to “design, build and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient and attractive.”

Mona Azarbayjani, the lead principal investigator and team manager for the project, said the UNCC team has specific goals in mind.

“The ultimate goal of participating in the competition is to demonstrate to the public how to integrate new energy-efficient technologies (in their homes),” Azarbayjani said. “We basically want to teach them that a solar-sustainable home is affordable and not much different than a traditionally designed house.”

The UNCC team started construction in January. The team combines about 80 students and faculty from the School of Architecture, the College of Engineering and the College of Business.

“The goal is to train our future generation of students and provide them with hands-on education that they would not get in a regular education,” said Azarbayjani. “They learn about integrated design and collaborating with other majors and disciplines because it’s a multidisciplinary project.”

The house, which the team named UrbanEden, has several sustainable qualities in the areas of lighting, heating and cooling, and material used for construction.

One of the most innovative aspects of the home is the use of geopolymer fly-ash concrete, a type of cement created from the reuse of coal ash, a waste which forms in the chimneys of coal-powered plants. The team hopes the use of fly ash will help them score high in the competition.

Brett Tempest, an assistant professor with the UNCC Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is working on the project as a faculty team leader. He said the use of coal ash in the concrete is better than using the traditional Portland cement because it cuts down on carbon dioxide emissions. Using it as the building material for the house will be a major selling point in the competition because it’s a recycled material.

“The Portland cement produces an enormous amount of greenhouse gas, about 10 percent of the overall emissions for everything, including cars,” said Tempest. “The good thing about using coal ash is that we are using a waste product instead of mining for something new.”

Clark Snell is a graduate student with the College of Arts and Architecture and the student team leader. He said as an environmental activist, he had to get involved with the UrbanEden project.

“(The competition) is an opportunity to build a state-of-the-art building that powers itself, which is what we need to be working toward as a country,” Snell said. “It’s hard to do in the real world, because there’s research involved and it has additional costs. But we are creating paradigms for people to go out and use this in the housing market.”

The team will travel to Irvine, Calif., for the 10-day event in October. It will include competition in categories such as architecture, marketing appeal, engineering, communications, affordability, comfort zone, hot water, appliances, home entertainment and energy balance.

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