October 21 of this year was Back To The Future Day, marking the date when Marty McFly and Doc Brown went to “the future”, the date above, in the second installment of the movie franchise. Naturally, the Internet exploded with a ton of articles about how much of the technology from the movies hasn’t quite made it into reality yet. You know the usual things like hoverboards, flying cars, and Mr. Fusion portable reactors.
But on the other hand, the construction industry is now using a revolutionary innovation, thermobimetals! What’s that, you say? Read on and find out.
Thermobimetals interact with the environment, and will be used in the future to heat and cool buildings more efficiently
The Future Of Construction: Thermobimetals!
Thermobimetals are an example of responsive architecture. They are alloys made of metals that have different thermal coefficients, so they change shape at different temperatures, thereby changing their shape and consequently, their environment. To be technical, thermobimetals are not a real alloy per se, as the metals are not mixed, but rather are layered together, one on top of the other. Some refer to them as bimetals, and others still call them alloys.
According to “Thermobimetals Could Make Buildings Respond to their Environment”, responsive architecture “…evolves or changes based on its environment and its inhabitants’ needs.” This entails creating buildings using materials that are sensitive to the environment and making changes that enhance the comfort of the occupants as well as improve sustainability.
How Do They Work?
Consider the two layers of a thermobimetal. One layer will curl at a given temperature while the other remains static. When the temperature reaches the “curling point” of that metal layer, it curves, thereby increasing air flow, making for a building that actually “breathes”.
Of course, when the temperature drops back down, that curled layer returns to its original shape.
What Are The Practical Applications?
A building made in part with thermobimetal can adjust for weather and light conditions, causing improved air circulation as well as having windows darken to keep out excess heat. Carbon footprints, green technology, and climate change are popular concepts these days, and will probably only get more significant as time goes on. Thermobimetals are one way to make allowances for these topics in construction, going forward.
This technology is still in its infancy, at least in the context of building construction materials. Therefore, there is no hard data available on how much money can be saved on energy costs. However, in at least one case (the San Francisco Federal Building), a computer is used to open and close windows and vents in response to temperature changes, and the projected energy savings hovers around fifty percent of the recommended energy expenditure. Imagine a building where, instead of employing a computer, the actual materials themselves react!
A Bright Future
This technology could eventually be used in smaller structures such as private homes. When you consider that the U.S. Energy Information Administration tells us that heating and cooling takes up roughly half of our home energy usage, that makes for a whole lot of savings across the industrial, commercial, and residential sectors.
It will be interesting to keep track of thermobimetal’s development and progress in the years to come.