Composite Materials for Energy-efficient Buildings

Abstract: Buildings account for 40% of carbon emissions globally, which can be attributed to (i) fossil energy use primarily for heating and cooling, and (ii) to the embodied carbon in conventional construction materials such as concrete and steel. Recent efforts have focused on making buildings green by integrating renewable energy generation, but the intermittency of these sources necessitates the use of thermal energy storage (TES) to match demand and supply. Of the different TES material categories, thermochemical materials (TCMs) exhibit volumetric energy densities that are at least 3 higher than phase change materials (PCMs) and sensible heat storage, making it attractive for TES in buildings where space is limited. Furthermore, TCMs exhibit negligible heat loss (i.e., no self-discharge) as they store and release energy via chemical reactions between a salt and water vapor. To maintain reaction reversibility, it is important for the salt to be structurally and hygrothermally stable under thermal cycling. To this end, the development of a salt-polymer composite will be discussed that enhances water vapor diffusion with a porous network to achieve a high energy storage density. To address the high embodied carbon footprint of buildings, the second part of this talk will discuss the development of building materials that are based on engineered wood and natural fibers. Specifically, wood-based composites can serve as both a structural and thermal insulation material for buildings, while sequestering carbon. A critical aspect here is to replace petrochemically derived resins and foams with sustainable materials, and examples for a structural insulated panel (SIP) will be presented. Composite materials can thus be engineered to achieved desired structural and thermal properties to lower the energy and carbon footprint of the buildings sector.


Bio: Dr. Akanksha Menon is an Assistant Professor in the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech and directs the Water-Energy Research Lab. Prior to this, she was an ITRI-Rosenfeld Postdoctoral Fellow in the Energy Technologies Area at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, where she continues to be a Research Affiliate. Her research group focuses on applying thermal science/engineering and functional materials to develop sustainable technologies for the water-energy nexus. Examples include solar desalination for a circular water economy, thermal energy storage for decarbonizing heat, and carbon-negative building materials. Dr. Menon received her Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Georgia Tech, where she developed polymer-based thermoelectric materials and devices for energy harvesting and personal thermoregulation. Dr. Menon is a recipient of the 2019 Sigma Xi Dissertation Award and the 2017 Materials Research Society (MRS) Silver Award. She was also recognized in the 2020 Falling Walls Breakthroughs of the Year: Emerging Talents category, and she was featured by the U.S. Department of Energy in their Women @ Energy initiative. Dr. Menon is in the Class of 1969 Teaching Fellows cohort, and currently serves as the Faculty Adviser for Pi Tau Sigma (mechanical engineering honor society).

Virtual Zoom meeting link: