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Message from the Director

The Texas Allergy, Indoor Environment, and Energy (TxAIRE) Institute

2012 End of the Year

The past year has once again been an exciting one for TxAIRE. Having "cut the ribbon" on our two new research and demonstration houses in September of 2011, the past year marked the beginning of full-scale use of those testbeds for a wide range of interesting product and environmental control experiments. To date, more than 80 building products companies, most of them from Texas, have contributed to the design, construct and product content of the TxAIRE homes. These houses showcase products and construction methods that result in a healthier and more comfortable environment that is both more energy and water efficient. In addition to our own research staff activities, we have hosted researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy's "Building America" Program, as well as provided countless tours for ASHRAE, the U.S. Green Building Council, student groups, and hundreds of interested home buyers. These houses embody the most advanced technology available today, and they are affordable.

Having already demonstrated that "net zero" energy homes are practical, reliable and affordable, our 2012 efforts have shifted to the more critical issue of electrical peak load demand. We have developed and are now testing "Zero Peak Power" residential systems that essentially will operate our research houses "off-grid" during peak load use hours. This concept is of interest to the power industry as one element in future efforts to reduce peak-load residential electricity demand. We have significant interest and investment from private companies and the Texas Emerging Technology Fund relative to this line of products. These systems essentially use battery storage and/or thermal storage to operate the HVAC and other "plug loads" off-line during peak demand hours. These systems will also make our homes more "resilient" and independent when power outages occur.

While the activities at our TxAIRE Homes have been significant again this year, we also completed two other research projects that we believe are equally important. In September we completed a project funded by the National Institutes of Health, National Children's Study. Under that effort TxAIRE collected settled dust and air samples from approximately 100 dwellings and analyzing them to estimate the types and levels of contaminants present in indoor environments. Exposure to such contaminants can cause health issues in small children, the unborn when pregnant women are similarly exposed, and our elderly as their immune systems begin to weaken. The final report for this project will be published soon.

During the past year we also completed a very interesting battery technology project being sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. This project was led by our sister campus at UT Dallas. They are leaders in the development of prototype rechargeable "capacitive" batteries that will essentially last a lifetime, replacing electrochemical battery technology that possesses a limited (about 300 cycles) recharge life. TxAIRE performed in-lab testing of the prototypes to determine performance affects associated with operating temperatures, voltage levels and charge/discharge methods. This project has pushed the state-of-the-art in such technology several orders of magnitude closer to the commercial realization of this new generation of rechargeable battery technology.

Although the full-time TxAIRE staff in small, our research efforts have created a "virtual staff" that has sponsored over 36 faculty research appointments and more than 70 student semesters of work on specific projects. With our research houses and this research staff network in place, we are now able to expand our focus to increasingly emphasize the commercialization of technologies being developed and evaluated within TxAIRE. Several of our on-going proprietary projects with industry should soon result in new patents and products that will improve building performance while creating new jobs in Texas. Many of these projects will result in modest sales growth for existing companies – large and small. We also believe that a few of these projects could be real "homeruns" that will significantly change the way houses are built and operated. From these products new companies will be created and existing companies will significantly grow their market share.

In summary, the past year has once again been a year of significant progress and growth. We continue to strengthen our mission of improving the health and efficiency of built environments. We continue to establish a firm research foundation upon which a TxAIRE products "GreenHouse" will grow. We have begun to plant many of the seeds that will mature into new high performance building products and methods. The growth and harvesting of those technologies will result in healthier, more energy and water efficient living while creating new and meaningful jobs in Texas.

John J. Vasselli
Executive Director
TxAIRE

 

Zero Peak Power System

September 11, 2012

Zero Peak system

We just completed installation of our first Zero Peak Power System on TxAIRE House #1. This system was initially designed and tested by a Senior Design Team from our Electrical Engineering Department. We are using it to shift the peak air conditioning electrical loads on this house from days to nights in order to ease the burden on the electrical utility. This concept is being developed to help reduce the need for future electrical power generating capacity. This first phase of this project uses existing battery, charger, and inverter technologies. Our next step will be to design more advanced systems that are cheaper, more compact, and easier to install.

 



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