Architecture professor ready to help produce green facades with FIT

Ihab Elzeyadi
Ihab Elzeyadi

Architecture Professor Ihab Elzeyadi lit up brightly as he detailed his new University of Oregon building envelopes laboratory during its "soft opening" April 15.

His new lab is Onyx Bridge – a building that opened in 1961.

Outside sections of the second and third floors, which rise above a walk and driveway combination for access from Eugene's Franklin Boulevard, are home to the new Facade Integrated Technologies (FIT) Testing Facility. A floor above features a prototype of a solar-awnings system, which was designed to act as a lab-in-the-mall model by transforming the entire building into a full-scale laboratory.

Attached to the building's south-facing facade is an "envelope" that extends some three feet beyond the windows and is wired with sensors that measure light intensity, solar radiation, temperatures, wind speed, acoustics, shading effects and more – all part of an effort to study both the performance of buildings, especially exterior envelopes meant to harvest natural light and energies, and how building design and systems affect their occupants.

When new facade technologies or prototypes are mounted to the envelope, the FIT facility can monitor and test the effectiveness, including energy saved, produced and consumed. The new technologies might include glazing/fenestration materials and chemical coatings, insulation, green wall panels, spectrally selective beams, facade integrated photovoltaic systems, dynamic-shading strategies and any other integrated devices. FIT can test sections as small as 2-by-2 feet.

FIT also is to be an integral part of the High Performance Environments Lab (HiPE) that Elzeyadi founded in 2008. The HiPE Lab is a signature research facility of the Oregon Built Environment & Sustainable Technologies Center (Oregon BEST), which helped fund construction of the FIT facility and connects industry players and entrepreneurs to the new research facility. It also is part of the UO-based Support Network for Research and Innovation in Solar Energy (SuNRISE).

"Oregon BEST is pleased to have helped create this world-class research facility at the UO that is available for use by industry," said David Kenney, president and executive director of Oregon BEST. "This is yet another example of how Oregon's universities and businesses are working together to advance our state's leadership position in cleantech innovation for the sustainable built environment."

To outside entities – including building material companies, the fenestration industry, architects, building designers and solar technologies companies – FIT also is a fee-for-service facility that can help innovators test their ideas to see what might really work in the real world while using FIT expertise to develop them further.

"This new facility is one of a kind in the nation, maybe the world," Elzeyadi told a small gathering of guests, including Kenney and Johanna Brickman, program manager for the Oregon BEST Sustainable Built Environment Program. Elzeyadi is an Oregon BEST researcher in addition to his UO appointment in the School of Architecture and Allied Arts.

"We are now at the stage of getting the word out to attract commercialization partners or people who want to test how their technologies are performing," Elzeyadi said. "We are offering our expertise to help in the design of new facades."

FIT is timely as society moves to create carbon-neutral environments that can curb the use of fossil fuels and turn buildings into green power plants. By integrating high-performance exterior technologies onto commercial buildings, designers can work to reduce energy loads, generate clean energy from new products and redirect energy harvested from daylight, water, heat and wind into spaces throughout buildings.

Elzeyadi and a team of student researchers told visitors that construction on the experimental facade structure on the building was completed last fall, and that data from the sensors have been collected for six months. There are more than 220 sensors strategically peppered across two stories and divided across 10 bays, or sections, each measuring 8-by-8 feet.

After initial calibration, the web-connected database includes some three months of usable data. The information collected helps analyze the efficiency of green products incorporated into the sides of buildings and will be used to help develop software programs to aid building designers and contractors when they integrate new technologies into their buildings.

Each bay, Elzeyadi noted, is named after a famous architect known for innovation in facade designs

By fall, Elzeyadi said, his group hopes to have sufficient data to draw reportable conclusions that could be presented at a larger and more-formal ribbon-cutting ceremony for FIT.

FIT was made possible by approximately $300,000 in funds, including an initial investment of $273,000 from Oregon BEST.

"We have been influenced and very inspired by Oregon BEST in the way you can collaborate, generate ideas and make up applications of these ideas, and then shape them and commercialize them into products and start ups," Elzeyadi said.

- by Jim Barlow, UO Office of Strategic Communications