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Research Highlights

EETD Scientists Tackle Afghani Housing

Twenty-six years of war and frequent earthquakes have badly damaged Afghanistan's housing stock and infrastructure. Earthquake damage has been severe-Afghanistan is in one of the world's most active zones-because traditional buildings have adobe walls supporting wooden rafters and roofs made of straw mats and mud. In Afghanistan's ravaged economy, modern construction methods are much too expensive to be useful.

Deciding a new approach was necessary, Henry Kelly, president of the Federation of American Scientists, challenged the U.S. academic and scientific communities (including Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory) to find a better way to build sturdier houses. The criteria were that the houses needed to be lightweight, easy to construct, and use no wood because of the scarcity of trees in Afghanistan. In addition, the structures had to be attractive to the population; comfortable in extreme climates; and secure in wind, fire, and earthquakes.

One of Kelley's friends proposed just the right thing: Styrofoam. It's lightweight, heat resistant, cheap, and strong. A 24-foot panel with a four- to 12-inch-thick core of expanded polystyrene sandwiched between two half-inch sheets of cement is sufficiently strong to support a 3,400-pound pickup truck.

Berkeley Lab scientists Ashok Gadgil, Hashem Akbari, and Rick Diamond are on the steering committee that will evaluate the housing materials' suitablity. The committee has already simulated the performance of a foam home to determine the appropriate wall thickness and window size. The group even set a mock-up on fire at a testing lab and watched the fire-resistant foam literally back away from the flames.

In the U.S., structural insulated panels systems (SIPS) are slowly becoming part of modern construction. One industry official estimates that the application of these panels is growing by 15 percent per year. In addition to the energy saved by the panels, construction time is shortened because they are easy to work with. The real test will be when homes are constructed with panels in Afghanistan and other parts of the world. Costs will be low, but will people buy the idea of living in a Styrofoam house?

Wray Honored with Distinguished Service Award

Craig Wray

Craig Wray, a mechanical engineer in EETD's Energy Performance of Buildings Group, was recently honored with the ASHRAE Distinguished Service Award. Wray has a 20-year history of service to ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers) that includes participating on numerous technical, research, and standards committees, as well as conducting building energy calculation and smoke control research on behalf of the Society. Most recently, he was the Chair of the Ventilation Requirements and Infiltration technical committee and is now a member of the Technical Activities Committee, which coordinates all of the Society's technical work in the fields of heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration.

The award is given to those individuals who have served the Society with distinction and given their time and talent on its behalf. Wray says that his efforts already have been repaid many times over by the benefits of the Society, which include early access to information about state-of-the-art technology, as well opportunities for networking, leadership, and professional development.

Gadgil Wins Tech Museum Award

Ashok Gadgil

San Jose, California's Tech Museum Awards program has given EETD's Ashok Gadgil a $50,000 prize for his UV Waterworks technology.

Gadgil won the "The Affymetrix Health Award." He is one of five 2004 Tech Museum Awards laureates awarded $50,000 for their pioneering work. The Museum encourages them to reinvest their winnings in innovative technology to solve global challenges and improve the lives of people around the world.

"I am greatly honored by this recognition of the enormous potential of UVWaterworks technology to reduce the global health impact of unsafe drinking water. This technology can provide affordable access to safe drinking water for hundreds of millions of people." Gadgil said.

More than four million people, mostly children, die annually from dirty drinking water. Gadgil's invention of UVWaterworks, a robust, inexpensive and effective technology to disinfect drinking water, reduces the cost to treat a person's annual drinking water supply to about $1.50. This invention makes safe drinking water affordable to the 1.2 billion people forced to rely on dirty drinking water, most of whom earn less than a dollar a day. For more information, see The Tech Museum Awards web site.

Examining Airline Cabin Air Quality

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Aviation Administration will establish a new "Center of Excellence" to examine cabin air quality and study chemical and biological threats in airliners. Researchers from the Environmental Energy Technologies Division's Indoor Environment Department and several universities will participate in the "Air Transportation Center of Excellence for Airliner Cabin Environment Research." The Principal Investigators are William Fisk and Thomas McKone. The Center will study cabin air quality and assess chemical and biological threats. Universities taking part in the effort include Auburn, Purdue, Harvard, and the University of California at Berkeley, Kansas State, Boise State, and University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. The Center will receive at least $1 million in funding the first year.

For more information about the FAA's Centers of Excellence program visit the Center's website.

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