Archive for the ‘Bioclimatic architecture’ category

Onyx Solar and Butech present cutting-edge Photovoltaic pavement

April 1, 2010

Onyx Solar has collaborated with Butech, Porcelanosa’s subsidiary focused on materials and constructive systems development, in the creation of the first PV pavement which is expected to be in the market by the end of the year. This innovative product was introduced at Porcelanosa’s Annual Show in February and turned out to be one of the main attractions of the show, the largest ever in terms of attendees. Porcelanosa is one of the world’s  leading manufacturers of high-end ceramic tiles and kitchen-and-bath products. Onyx Solar is specialized in the integration of solar photovoltaic solutions in buildings.

This cutting edge system, which is still in an early development stage by Onyx and Butech engineers, is made by a solar PV glass integrated over elevated ceramic and it´s completely walkable. One of its main atractives is the versatility and the fact that it is posible to place furnishing on it without losing space.

The pavement combines pasive elements (avoided CO2 emmissions) with active elements (power generation) reducing remarkably the impact of the building on the environment.

But the PV pavement is not the only Project in which Onyx Solar is working alongside Porcelanosa’s subsidiary. They are also working on a PV façade developed by both companies which, unlike the pavement, is already available and being installed in projects all over the World.

Team Spain Unveils B&W House to Compete in 2009 U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

January 21, 2009

The Spanish team from the UPM (Universidad Politecnica de Madrid),  presented last week  the design of the solar-powered house that will take part in Solar Decathlon 2009. The UPM is coordinating the Spanish multi-disciplinary team of young engineers and architects in this fourth edition of the contest.

The prototype, named the B&W House, representing the balance between black and white, was presented on January 15, at the Cervantes Institute in New York City by Josep María Adell, Professor of Architecture at the Polytechnical University of Madrid (UPM) and project manager of Team SPAIN in the Solar Decathlon.

B&W House - Courtesy of UPM
B&W House – Courtesy of UPM

The B&W House’s design is based both on technical and bioclimatic criteria, using the latest technology.  The objective is to minimize the impact on the environment while achieving an atmosphere of optimal living inside.

The eventual construction will be a cubic, one-story building measuring 45 square meters (483 square feet) that supports a large solar panel capable of orienting itself to the sun during the day and resting in a horizontal position at night.

The house’s interior is a unique transportable module that includes all the technology needed for energy self-sufficiency, since not only is energy captured by the solar panel on the roof but also by vertical panels on the walls that also move in keeping with the Earth’s rotation.

The B&W House’s commercial costs will be much lower than those of a traditional house.  The design also offers the possibility of separately selling optimized products with independent functions.

The Solar Decathlon is a competition organized by the U.S. Department of Energy.  Universities all over the world can compete by designing their own solar prototype.  A solar city will be constructed at the Washington Mall in October where all the solar houses of the respective universities are displayed.  Each home will be judged on 10 criteria including style, innovation, efficiency, lighting design, engineering, market viability, appliances and home entertainment.

Once the competition is finished, the Spanish team plans to enlarge the house by adding another story between the ground floor and the self-adjusting roof, whose orientation to the sun is reminiscent of a sunflower.

The UPM has taken part in the Solar Decathlon on two previous occasions, finishing in fifth and ninth place in 2007 and 2005, respectively. “On this occasion we have to do better; we’re going to try to win,” Adell said.

He added that it would be good for Spain to have a strong performance ahead of the inaugural European version of this same competition in 2010.

“The UPM is working at the commission of the (Spanish) Housing Ministry to organize the Solar Decathlon Europe, which will be held in Madrid in 2010 and in which 21 universities from 10 countries are to participate,” the project director of that initiative, Sergio Vega, told Efe.

For more information about UPM and Team SPAIN visit

Gas Natural opens one of the first European solar cooling plants

July 16, 2008
Courtesy of hungryghost

Gas Natural HQ in Barcelona

The Spanish energy company Gas Natural inaugurated yesterday in Seville one of the first European solar cooling experimental plants. The technology behind it is double-effect solar absorption cooling backed up by natural gas. That allows for more efficiency and consistency in obtaining cold levels apt to be used in heating and refrigeration.

The project’s main objective is to allow the company acquire enough experience to be able to deploy these solar thermal cooling units in buildings starting next year. This drive has been fueled by the Spanish new Technical Building Code (TBC) which, since September 2006, has made the installation of solar collectors compulsory to contribute to the household hot water requirements of both new and rehabilitated buildings.

This 3,767 square foot installation is located on the roof of the College of Engineering, at the University of Seville, that is a partner in the project along with the Andalusia Technology Corporation, a public agency that fosters Research and Development in this Spanish region.

The investment in the installation amounts to 1,3 million euros ($2 million). It provides a third of the cooling needs of the building in summer (around 500 kW), and from half to all of its energy needs in winter, depending on the month.

Natural building blocks out of hemp

March 20, 2008

The hemp plant (Cannabis sativa L.) gets a bad rap because of its association with drugs, but it was already in use 8.000 years ago and is present today in a wide array of sectors ranging from medicines, body care products, and clothing to the automotive industry.

One promising application for this plant is as a building material for Bioclimatic architecture in the form of a brick.


The Spanish newspaper El Mundo reports about Cannabric (Spanish only), a company launched nine years ago by the German architect Monika Brümmer in Guadix, province of Granada. Her career project researching vegetable building materials led her to this hemp product, achieved through an arduous trial and error process.

(Photo: Courtesy of Cannabric)

This “eco-brick” is composed of industrial hemp, natural slaked lime and a mixture of minerals. The higher price this brick commands versus a traditional one is more than compensated by a series of advantages:

  • Growing hemp improves the condition of the ground. It is a robust and fast-growing plant that requires neither herbicides nor pesticides during its cultivation.
  • Industrial hemp has a very low thermal conductivity, producing a brick with vastly superior insulation properties against both cold and heat.
  • It produces no toxic by products and is fully recyclable
  • It absorbs sound and is non-flammable

It is a popular material in the cave houses typical of the area around Guadix, in Granada and it is also gaining ground in other regions around Spain, as it is especially suited to areas reaching extremes of temperature in summer and winter. It has even been used in the restoration of a monastery in the province of Palencia. Hemp bricks have also been used in projects in France and England.

Aiming for the perfect bioclimatic building

January 15, 2008

A new building inaugurated last December at the Almeria Solar Platform is set to achieve energy savings in a range of 80 t0 90%, compared to a conventional building. What´s more, the energy that it does consume comes from renewable sources.

It is part of a research project that will run up until 2010: a myriad of sensors will check if actual conditions match the theorical predictions posited in its design and construction.

CIEMAT, the Spanish Research Center for Energy and Environmental Technologies, is behind this initiative called PSE-ARFRISOL (initials for Bioclimatic Architecture and Solar Cooling, in Spanish), with an initial budget of almost 59 million dollars. It is joined by the universities of Oviedo and Almeria and different construction (Acciona, Dragados, FCC and OHL) and solar energy companies (Atersa, Gamesa Solar, Isofoton and Unisolar).

Its main objective is to develop a total of five architectural prototypes, one for each climate area found in Spain (Cold, Warm, Hot dry and Hot wet).


(Photo courtesy of Ciemat)

The building just inaugurated corresponds to an area, Almeria, that fits the hot and dry conditions. The Almeria Solar Platform, where it is located, is a center from the CIEMAT network that pioneers different cutting-edge solar technologies and installations.

The building comprises active strategies like thermal solar collectors, pv panels, forced ventilation and absorption pumps, as well as passive strategies, such as solar chimneys, natural (simple and crossed) ventilation, buried pipes for cooling, etc.

Even though technology helps, so does common sense to take advantage of the climate conditions of the place regarding the orientation of the building, natural lighting and isolation treatments, to give some examples.

The Eco-boulevard: Cooling public spaces through “air trees”

December 28, 2007

The Ecoboulevard is an interesting idea by the young architecture firm “Ecosistema Urbano” (also involved in the Philadelphia Urban Voids program). The project got one of the first prizes at this year Architectural Review (AR) Awards for Emerging Architecture.

The neighborhood of Vallecas, in Madrid (Spain) was looking for innovative ways to have more social activitity in the streets and more greenery at the same time. The winning project was the Ecoboulevard.

The idea is simple (see picture): a round structure in public square that acts like a nursery with “air trees” going up providing shade and cooling the atmosphere. These “mini-forests” are ‘easily dismantled and energetically self-sufficient’, as they are connected to solar panels at the top of the structure to be used in social gatherings and events.

Originally uploaded by
Juan Freire

When the metallic structures are no longer reliant on air conditioning, they can be disassembled, and left as ‘clearings’ in the urban forest. The AR judges liked the combination of ideas: the tree, the container in which it might sit, solar power and the flow of air through a given structure, with a visually impressive appearance.

The house in the woods

October 24, 2007

And now for something completely different. After seeing all the technology displays during the Solar Decathlon, this low impact house in the Welsh countryside is a sort of back-to-basics counterpoint showing another way of thinking outside the box.


(Credits: Simon Dale)

Some key points of its design and construction:

  • Dug into hillside for low visual impact and shelter
  • Stone and mud from diggings used for retaining walls, foundations etc.
  • Frame of oak thinnings (spare wood) from surrounding woodland
  • Reciprocal roof rafters are structurally and aesthaetically fantastic and very easy to do
  • Straw bales in floor, walls and roof for super-insulation and easy building
  • Plastic sheet and mud/turf roof for low impact and ease
  • Lime plaster on walls is breathable and low energy to manufacture (compared to cement)
  • Reclaimed (scrap) wood for floors and fittings
  • Anything you could possibly want is in a rubbish pile somewhere (windows, burner, plumbing, wiring…)
  • Woodburner for heating – renewable and locally plentiful
  • Flue goes through big stone/plaster lump to retain and slowly release heat
  • Fridge is cooled by air coming underground through foundations
  • Skylight in roof lets in natural feeling light
  • Solar panels for lighting, music and computing
  • Water by gravity from nearby spring
  • Compost toilet
  • Roof water collects in pond for garden etc.


(Credits: Simon Dale)
Simon Dale, the builder (along with his father-in-law) is a graphic arts designer and photographer. His pictures are mainly about landscapes and they are really beautiful, by the way, don´t miss them.

A look back at the Solar Decathlon 2007

October 23, 2007

So, the coolest little village this side of the Atlantic closed its doors last Friday. The Solar Decathlon ended with a German winner, the team from Technische Universitat Darmstadt.

They beat out 20 teams of architecture, engineering and business students from the United States, Canada, Germany, Puerto Rico and Spain to win the third annual event. The teams competed in ten different contests to design, build, and operate attractive and energy-efficient solar-powered homes.


Oak louvers on the Technishe Universitat Darmstadt’s solar powered home provide shading and privacy for visitors to the Solar Decathlon on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., Saturday, Oct. 13.
(Credit: Jim Tetro/Solar Decathlon)

Teams were granted $100,000 each to spend over about two years to design and build an 800-square-foot home powered entirely by solar energy, with off-the-shelf solar-electric panels. The homes did not use fossil fuels and yielded no carbon emissions. Normally, they include high-tech gadgets that allow comfort and convenience without compromising respect for the environment.

On top of that, each house had to produce enough extra electricity to power an electric car.

Although it could be well said that everybody was a winner here and all the houses had interesting ideas and cool features, the three ones that came out on top were:

1st: Technische Universität Darmstadt
TUD won the Architecture, Lighting, and Engineering contests. Darmstadt was, besides, one of seven teams to score an impressive 100 points in the Energy Balance contest.

2nd: University of Maryland
Maryland won the Communications contest and was second in Architecture, Market Viability, and Lighting. They were also one of the teams to score 100 points in the Energy Balance contest.

3rd: Santa Clara University
They scored 100 points in the Hot Water contest and also 100 points in the Energy Balance contest, and besides that they built a public-friendly and entertaining house tour that was praised by the jury. Funnily enough, they almost did not make it to the competition, as they had transportation problems on the way there.

The two teams I was tracking did not do too bad. The University of Illinois elementhouse was 1st in the “Comfort zone” “Market viability” contests and ended in 9th position altogether. The Madrid team (UPM) earned third place in the architectural portion of the competition and was fifth in the final score.

The success of the Solar Decathlon is manifested in how the houses in past competitions are being used or replicated. According to the US Energy Secretary Mr. Bodman in his closing ceremony and awards remarks, the winning 2002 University of Colorado house is now the core of a bigger house owned by the former president of the Solar Energies Industries Association. The Rhode Island School of Design house from 2005 is being installed as faculty housing at a private school in Portsmouth. The previous two University of Missouri at Rolla entries are being used as student housing. And the New York Institute of Technology’s 2005 house is permanently installed at the United States Merchant Marine Academy as a renewable energy research center

In that same speech, Mr. Bodman also announced that the Department is making up to $44.1 million available to support the commercialization and promotion of solar and energy efficient technologies. Up to $4.1 million of that funding will be used to establish centers that promote these technologies to the building trades and homeowners.

Some technologies he found worth noting were:

  • The translucent roof atop the Georgia Institute of Technology’s entry that employs a new technology already in use in large scale buildings around the world
  • The structural bamboo I-beams in the Santa Clara University house
  • The liquid desiccant waterfall that removes humidity with very little energy, greatly reducing the job of the air conditioner that the University of Maryland had on display in its house.
  • You may check out a short video of each of the 20 homes at Blue Egg, an eco-lifestyle media company.


    U.S. and Spain to Develop Solar Decathlon Europe

    October 18, 2007


    Casa Solar  (above and down below) from the UPM at Washington (pictures courtesy of Inhabitat)

    Press release from the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Public Affairs, Washington, D.C.

    Today U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Alexander Karsner and Spain’s Undersecretary of Housing Fernando Magro Fernández signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to collaborate in the development of a Solar Decathlon Europe competition in 2010. The Solar Decathlon is a competition which challenges university-led teams to build the most attractive and efficient solar-powered homes, held on the National Mall in Washington, DC.

    Under the MOU signed today, the DOE will assist in developing a similar event in Europe. “The twin challenges of increasing energy security and confronting climate change are global in nature – the solutions will require multilateral action. DOE’s Solar Decathlon is supporting a new generation of student engineers, architects, designers, and communicators, while demonstrating that solar energy technologies are available here and now,” Assistant Secretary Karsner said. “With three successful Solar Decathlons to show, the Department of Energy looks forward to lending our expertise to encourage the same innovation and entrepreneurial spirit across the Atlantic and around the world.” 

    Under the non-binding MOU, both countries will exchange information regarding rules, scoring, judging, safety, and site and team selection for a Solar Decathlon Europe event. Spain’s Housing Ministry will establish a framework for a European edition of Solar Decathlon in collaboration with DOE. The initial plans call for the Solar Decathlon Europe to take place on years in which a Solar Decathlon is not taking place in the United States. Both nations will contribute members to an oversight committee, which will approve plans and activities, and evaluate success of the program.

    “We have great hope that the development of a European edition of the Solar Decathlon competition, to take place in Madrid in 2010,” Spanish Undersecretary of Housing Fernando Magro said.

    “This event not only furthers the ties between the United States and Europe but it will also further foster the development and use of energy efficient and sustainably developed housing throughout the world.” 1598632279_4cec441235_o.jpg

    Three Solar Decathlon events have been held in the United States since 2002. DOE’s Solar Decathlon will continue to be held in the United States; the fourth event will be held in Washington, DC in fall 2009.

    This year, more than 100,000 people are expected to tour the solar village. DOE’s Solar Decathlon is open to the public through Saturday, October 20, 2007.   For full event information and high-resolution photos, visit the Solar Decathlon website.

    The Solar village comes to life

    October 12, 2007

    The newest neighborhood in Washington has sprung to life. 20 University teams are showcasing on the National Mall their energy-independent homes, equipped with technological advances that provide maximized energy efficiency.


    The Solar Decathlon (see our previous coverage here) is a bi-annual competition in ecological design and engineering. Judging will take place on October 17th and competition winners will be announced on October 19th. The entire event is open to the public with tours, workshops, and awards ceremonies for the most promising and practical showings. It is a part of the Solar America Initiative, which seeks to make solar energy cost-competitive with conventional forms of electricity by 2015.

    There have been two prior competitions, in 2002 and 2005. The reigning champion is the University of Colorado that, having won twice, remains the team to beat. This year´s edition brings more teams, including the first participation from the M.I.T. and a German university, Darmstadt.

    The Illinois team comes from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Residents of Chicago that miss the contest will have a second chance to visit their house, at the Greenbuild Expo later in November (7-9).

    Though my alma mater does not compete xespanasolar05.jpg(Complutense), I can take solace in the fact that my hometown will be represented through the Universidad Politecnica de Madrid (UPM). It is the second time they participate in the competition. In their debut, the UPM presented a Mediterranean-style house, Magic Box. This time round, their project has been called Casa Solar

    The team has been very active in making it known. It offers the possibility of a virtual tour at its website, it has been showcased at a Real State Show in Spain, Sima, and it even has a presence in Second Life, for seasoned netizens.

    According to Sergio Vega, the director of the Solar Decathlon project for the Universidad Politecnica de Madrid: “The Solar Decathlon is an opportunity for Spain to demonstrate its expertise in the area of sustainable living. This year, we’ve applied these advancements to an American-style home to create not only an eco-friendly structure but one with all the modern conveniences that make it truly livable.”

    Casa Solar contains a system of ‘smart’ foundations and double-paned windows with an interlayer of air that allows for intelligent control of its features. Additional elements include:

    – A technical floor equipped with phase-changing gels which allows for natural cooling and heating of the house

    – A Photovoltaic Array system by Isofoton captures solar energy on the 800 square foot roof and converts it into electricity

    – A system of window shades that prevent the loss of energy accumulated inside the home during the night, as well as systems of localized complementary insulation

    – A waste collection system that is easily accessible from the kitchen counter which facilitates the separation of different types of waste with little effort. Separating waste makes it easier and cheaper to recycle.

    The house has been designed with the concept of “Market viability” very much in mind, a new area the contest organizers are evaluating this year. Casa Solar has the advantage of its building flexibility as it has all the facilities ‘packages’ for the home together in a core, a sort of “technological backpack” which acts as a thermal buffer and is located in the coolest area of the house.

    See a detailed profile of each of the teams at this pdf file (Competition program)


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