Distinguished Lecturer – Tami Bond

Systems, surroundings, crosstalk, and critical mass: Prospects for improving indoor solid-fuel burning

Abstract: 

Three billion people burn solid fuel to cook and heat. Four million people die prematurely because of exposure to particulate matter emissions from this burning every year. These impressive statistics have garnered donor attention, motivated design of combustion devices, and prompted intervention programs large and small.

The simple nature of the “three-stone fire” and the relative poverty of its users initially fooled engineers and implementers into believing a massive transformation was near at hand. Why does a major public health problem still exist, if the solutions are basic? On the technical side, burning a complex fuel without initial distillation is an extremely difficult problem. More importantly, the humble cookstove is embedded in a web of systems: technology support, household interactions, user limitations and ambitions, physical resources, and expectations from the international community. Meeting the challenge of providing clean energy for all will require engineers to be both technical experts and systems thinkers.

Tami Bond

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Tami Bond is a professor of Environmental Engineering at the University of Illinois. Her research has followed a thread from combustion, to atmospheric chemistry and climate, to technology change and future scenarios, to the intimate relationship between technology and human choice. Beginning in an auto repair garage and detouring through indoor air and building energy, Bond first earned two degrees in mechanical engineering, before succumbing to an interdisciplinary Ph.D., pursuing a NOAA Climate and Global Change post-doc, and eventually landing in a civil engineering department. Her research group now spans considerations as small as a particle’s skin and as large as a national transportation system in the quest to characterize the dance between humans, “their stuff,” and the atmosphere and climate.

Rural energy sources, like cookstoves, have been a common theme in Bond’s work since her post-doctoral days, when people would mail her lumps of coal to aid in the search for missing sources. Members of the Bond group have chased smoke on four continents, participated in international standards and testing initiatives, and worked with non-governmental organizations to bring testing capabilities closer to implementers.

Bond is the Nathan M. Newmark Distinguished Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering and director of the Center for Applied Collaboration on Human Environments (CACHE) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union and a 2014 John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellow. Bond’s professional hobbies include scientific synthesis and cross-disciplinary knitting.

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Students win grand prize in the 2017 U.S. Department of Energy’s Race to Zero design competition

The team beat out over 50 submissions from four countries during this eight-month competition. The project focuses on building sciences, green energy initiatives and sustainable city development

Creating homes in the forgotten Toronto back laneways, LaneZero’s design offers stylish living driven by sustainable development.

Downtown location with loft-style, open-concept living featuring a bright kitchen, second-floor balcony and no energy bills for life.

This net-zero listing is a surprising addition to the rear garages and often neglected buildings dotting Toronto back alleys; but for a city facing a housing crunch this design contest winner might be the sustainable solution needed.

Recently Jason Gray (CivE MASc student) and U of T alum Kevin Wu Almanzar (CivE 1T6) teamed up with students from Ryerson to take home the grand prize in the 2017 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Race to Zero competition. Tackling green energy and building science challenges, the team addressed some unique problems plaguing Toronto with their market-ready design concept entitled, LaneZero.

LaneZero is a commercially viable design providing current homeowners the ability to transform pre-existing vehicle storage units to net-zero, single-family dwellings. Common garages are an untapped potential, which could transform our city.  With City Hall actively pursuing sustainable transportation alternatives, current forecasts suggest the need for garages will dramatically decrease.

Standing out from its competition, LaneZero responds to property owners’ needs today. The design offers a modern living space, affordable construction and great returns on initial investment given the net-zero mechanical performance.

“LaneZero shows that there is a viable option to help mitigate Toronto’s housing crisis. The fact that it can be competitively built while being net-zero, is in itself a large achievement. We expect LaneZero will encourage and help inform future Toronto by-law changes, which have been slow to develop and evolve,” Wu Almanzar notes.

Working within existing city landscape and infrastructure, the team used the laneways of Christie Pits as inspiration, and set out to identify a net-zero energy solution for the neighbourhood.

Prospective LaneZero sites are small and forced the team to revaluate traditional green building strategies. In typical low-energy homes, the necessary insulation needed in the building envelop to minimize thermal bridging requires walls up to three times larger than conventional building methods. The LaneZero design balanced the home’s footprint with wall thickness for optimal living through energy modelling and parametric analysis.

 

LaneZero’s winning architectural rendering of their market-ready Toronto laneway design.

“Our design serves to activate the laneways of Toronto and foster a community in spaces that were historically underused,” said Gray. “The laneway concept gives homeowners the opportunity to establish income properties on their existing lots and provides housing alternatives in the Toronto market. For those that don’t want to go the condo route – this is a great housing option.”

With 15 team members from a variety of fields like architecture, building science and mechanical engineering the students collaborated on every decision and development phase. From competing design needs requiring compromise to conflicting construction requirements, the team harnessed the complex, iterative process to spark ingenuity and innovation.

After weeks of comparisons and adjustments, the team obtained net-zero energy unlike other submissions who failed to meet the energy target. Using modelling software to determine an optimal design, the team considered the quantity of daylight penetration year-round, environmental impact and overall building costs.

Gray and Wu Almanzar spearheaded the envelope system design to minimize heat loss, protect the structure from damage, and help ensure year-round comfort. They worked alongside the architecture, mechanical, and indoor environmental quality teams to ensure comprehensive and fully integrated systems.

One creative and interesting consideration the team addressed was the limited roof space on laneway homes for solar panels. They employed passive solar and mechanical design concepts to take advantage of free energy and technological enhancements.

“For example, LaneZero leveraged the low-angle sun in the winter time with large south facing windows to maximize free heat gains while offsetting the heating demand. Appropriate shading for the summertime limited the amount of direct solar radiation entering the building and lowered the cooling demand,” explains Gray. “On the mechanical side, using an innovative heat pump design, the heating, cooling, and domestic hot water were all provided in a highly energy efficient manner. Other strategies, such as a large amount of insulation for the envelope assemblies, continuous thermal layers, and energy efficient appliance selection contributed to achieving the net-zero goal.”

The design lauded for its architectural finesse, comprehensive building science analysis and a unique vision for the future of sustainable cities, won in the Attached Housing category and the grand prize across all categories. The team is investigating future expansions and potential opportunities for project applications.

Heat, housing and health: Marianne Touchie and the complexity of multi-unit residential buildings

Professor Marianne Touchie (CivE, MIE) is working with Toronto Community Housing and The Atmospheric Fund to better understand how changes to energy use affect indoor environmental quality in multi-unit residential buildings. Toronto Public Health is collaborating to use their data to inform policy. (Photo: Kevin Soobrian)

Professor Marianne Touchie (CivE, MIE) is working with Toronto Community Housing and The Atmospheric Fund to better understand how changes to energy use affect indoor environmental quality in multi-unit residential buildings. Toronto Public Health is collaborating to use their data to inform policy. (Photo: Kevin Soobrian)

Professor Marianne Touchie (CivE, MIE) is working with Toronto Community Housing and The Atmospheric Fund to better understand how changes to energy use affect indoor environmental quality in multi-unit residential buildings. Toronto Public Health is collaborating to use their data to inform policy. (Photo: Kevin Soobrian)


This story originally appeared at U of T Engineering News

This story is a part of a  five-part #RisingStars series, highlighting the work of our early-career professors.

In cities from coast to coast, condominium towers are being constructed at an unprecedented rate, with 30,000 new units added in 2015 to the Toronto market alone. This is driven both by recent advances in the design, engineering and construction of tall buildings, and a stark increase in demand for these multi-unit residential buildings (MURBs). “More people are moving downtown,” says Professor Marianne Touchie (CivE, MIE). “There’s very limited space, so we need high-density housing options and MURBs provide that.”

With a background in building science, Touchie studies the relationships between energy efficiency and indoor environment quality parameters, such as thermal comfort, in these high-density buildings. In Toronto, one of the largest suppliers of MURBs is Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC), which owns 50 million square feet of residential space and houses 110,000 residents. Many of these are older buildings without air conditioning.

“A lot of these buildings rely on ventilation through the building envelope, which is not terribly effective. At the same time, we need to reduce our energy consumption and energy use,” she says. “But reducing energy usage has implications for occupants, and that’s what I’m interested in studying.”

Touchie is currently collaborating with The Atmospheric Fund (formerly the Toronto Atmospheric Fund) on a large research project—one that she has been involved with since her role as their Building Research Manager from 2014 to 2015. She and her colleagues are collecting data on energy consumption, temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide concentration in more than 70 apartments spanning seven different TCHC buildings.

“It’s probably the most comprehensive MURB monitoring project in North America, if not the world,” says Touchie.

They are also working with Professor Jeffrey Siegel (CivE), who is examining concentrations of formaldehyde, particulate matter and, through a partnership with Health Canada, radon concentrations. Touchie says that collaborations, such as those with TCHC, The Atmospheric Fund and Siegel, are critical to creating a comprehensive picture of the MURBs she studies. “Buildings are so complex,” says Touchie. “I have training in one particular area, but I’m not an indoor air quality expert. When we make changes from an energy perspective to the ventilation system, or the heating and cooling system, it has an influence on the air quality. Working with other experts, like Professor Siegel, we can gather data on all sides.”

Touchie’s findings with The Atmospheric Fund and TCHC have drawn the interest of Toronto Public Health. The agency is interested in the health impact of extreme heat, and the study has found that these TCHC buildings are often overheated, especially in the summer.

“Extreme heat is a health problem, especially for the most vulnerable populations,” says Sarah Gingrich, a Health Policy Specialist at Toronto Public Health. Very young children, the elderly and people with illnesses or taking certain medications are most at risk. “This work is providing evidence that excessive heat is a problem in older apartment buildings in Toronto. The research is showing that although the temperature cools down at night outside, in these buildings it rises during the day and they stay hot all night long.”

Touchie and her collaborators are finding that a major culprit for the inefficient heating and cooling performance is uncontrolled air leakage. These leaks often occur around windows, doors, exhaust fans and elevator shafts. But inefficiencies aren’t just a building issue: she adds that “because people can do whatever they want in their own homes, like open and close their windows, MURBs combine the complexity of high-rise buildings with the occupant wild card,” which makes managing the indoor environment even trickier.

“The study provides valuable information on Toronto apartment buildings that will help to inform policy development,” says Toronto Public Health’s Gingrich. “It fills a very important gap by providing up-to-date data that highlights some of the challenges in this type of building, and points to potential solutions.”

Next, Touchie hopes to expand her research to newer condos, where data is even scarcer. “They’re going up so quickly, and we really have no information about the quality of the indoor environment or their energy performance,” she says. “I am very curious whether their energy consumption matches the performance level promised at the design stage.”

U of T Engineering student team competes at Green Energy Challenge finals

The University of Toronto student chapter of the Canadian/National Electrical Contractors Association (CECA/NECA) is one of three finalists to compete at the 2016 Green Energy Challenge in Boston this weekend.

The students from U of T Engineering are the only Canadian team, and will compete against teams from Iowa State and the University of Washington. The final three were selected from 14 proposals.

“We selected UTS because it is an aging building that uses older lighting systems and could benefit greatly from an upgrade,” said Dmitri Naoumov (CivE 1T5+PEY), the team’s project manager. “The school is also planning a major renovation, so our proposal could help to inform the energy needs and improvements.”The U of T team partnered with University of Toronto Schools (UTS), a Grade 7 to 12 university preparatory school in downtown Toronto, to design an energy efficiency upgrade, including a small-scale photovoltaic system that would serve as a teaching and learning tool for students.

Competing alongside Naoumov are Matheos Tsiaras (CivE 1T5+PEY), Ernesto Diaz Lozano Patiño (CivE 1T5+PEY, MASc Candidate), Greg Peniuk (CivE Year 4 + PEY), Arthur Leung(ChemE Year 4), Claire Gao (ChemE Year 4 + PEY), Mackenzie De Carle (CivE Year 4) and Nataliya Pekar (CivE Year 4).

“The lighting in the rooms was below the recommended levels for classroom learning,” said Naoumov. “By increasing the light in classrooms, we are helping to create an environment more conducive for students and teachers.”Their design includes detailed technical solutions for classroom lighting retrofit, integrated window treatments and the design of a rooftop 4kW photovoltaic solar array, which all meet the unique needs of the building and the climate in Toronto. By upgrading the lighting system to use lower wattage bulbs, using occupancy sensors and installing light shelves that regulate daylight, the team determined that UTS could reduce its annual energy consumption by up to 125 MWh, or enough to light 10 typical homes.

UTS is eager to incorporate the students’ energy efficient and technologically savvy infrastructure into its daily operations. Because many Toronto public school buildings are showing their age, this could serve as a model for future upgrades across the city.

“UTS is an Eco School and we aim to reduce our environmental footprint and energy costs,” said Philip Marsh, vice-principal of UTS. “The team’s analysis and understanding of how to improve the efficiency of our building was impressive. We see the proposed roof solar array as a viable design option for the future.”

Competing for the first time at the Green Energy Challenge in 2015, the U of T team placed fourth with its lighting and back-up power retrofit proposal for the Good Sheppard Ministries shelter in downtown Toronto. Although the project did not win them a spot at the convention, Good Sheppard Ministries is currently implementing their design throughout its facility.

CECA/NECA brings together electrical contractors across the country to share experience and advice. Established in 2014, the U of T chapter extension is the first of its kind in Canada. Its goal is to bridge the gap between contracting and engineering and engage students with first-hand, applied experience. In addition to pitting their design savvy against groups at other North American universities, the group hosts networking and social events and connects students with scholarship and job opportunities.

How efficient is your home?

Would you like to know more about the air quality in your home?

air-filtration-study
We are undertaking a research project to explore the impact of high-efficiency filtration on particle concentrations in residences. Funded by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), we will be conducting yearlong measurements in 18 Toronto residences in order to develop a complete picture of how filters influence indoor air quality in residences. This project is unique because of the depth and the duration of the measurements and it should provide considerable details about the benefits and costs, as well as the real-world performance of filters in residences.

In order to complete this work, we need to recruit homes that are willing to participate. The benefits for the research subjects include free filters for a year, a very detailed report on particle concentrations in your home, and cash incentive ($20 after completion of first measurement site-visit, $50 after six-months of participation in the project, and $80 upon completion of the project).

The criteria that we need from all test homes are:

  • A central forced air conditioning system that is used for both heating and air conditioning and that uses a standard size filter and that is accessible for all testing.
  • Within a 30-minute commuting distance from the University of Toronto St. George campus.
  • Ability to access the house (and furnace area specifically) for field tests nine times over the course of a year (more details below).
  • Allow for the installation of monitoring equipment for the duration of the study.
  • Have no current plan to change the furnace/air-conditioning system over the course of the year.

This will be a field-intensive project which means that we are conducting many measurements including a physical characterization of the house and the heating and cooling system, continuous monitoring of furnace operating run-time and particulate matter concentrations, and periodic monitoring of carbon dioxide levels, size-resolved particle concentrations, filtration efficiency, and other related parameters. We will also analyze dust collected on study home filters to better assess filtration performance and its relationship to exposure.

All houses that are accepted into this program will be tested nine times (every 1.5 months) over the course of the year. The initial visit will be approximately 4-6 hours in length and subsequent visits will be shorter. A few of the tests will involve leaving equipment overnight and returning to pick it up the next day. None of the equipment or testing will affect the operation of your house or changes in normal activities with the potential exception of additional operation of the furnace blower (not the furnace itself, just the fan that moves air). All visits will be done by myself and/or trained graduate students.
If you meet the criteria above and are potentially interested in participating, please contact Masih Alavy at masih.alavy@mail.utoronto.ca or 416-300-7325 and indicate your interest. We will schedule a short visit where we can check the suitability of your system/house for the project, show you the equipment that we will deploying, discuss the schedule in more detail, and answer any of your questions. Once we have a list of candidate homes, the project monitoring subcommittee at  ASHRAE will approve the list and we anticipate beginning testing in December 2016 or January 2017. Please don’t hesitate to contact me at jeffrey.siegel@utoronto.ca or 416-978-7975 if you have any questions.