NSF funds interdisciplinary team’s grey water disinfection plan
BERKELEY — A University of California, Berkeley, team has been awarded a $2 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant for research on biologically-inspired technologies for grey water reuse and thermal energy management that may propel sustainable building into a new era.
The grant comes from the NSF’s Emerging Frontiers in Research and
Innovation’s 2010 Science in Energy and Environmental Design (EFRI-SEED)
program for engineering sustainable buildings.
Leading UC Berkeley’s award-winning, interdisciplinary research
team as principal investigator is Maria Paz-Gutierrez,
assistant professor of architecture in UC Berkeley’s
College of Environmental Design, and the only architect
serving as principal investigator for any of the NSF’s
eight EFRI-SEED 2010 grants. Her work focuses on advancing
sustainable building technologies, particularly for developing regions.
For the first time in the NSF’s history, the inclusion of an architect
was required in each request-for-proposal for this grant.
Also on the UC Berkeley team is Luke Lee, Lloyd Distinguished Professor
in Bioengineering, director of the Biomolecular Nanotechnology
Center and co-director of the Sensor & Actuator Center, at UC Berkeley.
Lee is a distinguished scientist in the field of photonics
and micro fluidics. The other team member is civil environmental
engineer Slawomir Hermanowicz, a UC Berkeley professor of civil engineering
renowned for his research involving biological water and wastewater
Together, the researchers are testing a new water-recycling system
for a building system, designed for application in
multi-story apartments. The recycling system couples
the solar disinfection of grey water from kitchen sinks,
showers, or laundries with thermal storage for energy
management and light transmission control.
The real breakthrough within the collaboration, the researchers
said, is their plan for a system of micro-optic lenses
on exterior building walls that links the grey water disinfection
process to radiant floor heating via a lightweight, thin membrane.
The biologically-inspired compound solar lenses, or “eyes,” have
self-regulating fields of view for enhanced light absorption of
up to about 150 degrees, and the lenses are contained inside a
thin film that is applied to the walls.
The UC Berkeley researchers also said the lens array represents a huge improvement over current wall systems, whose solar systems to disinfect grey water and remove trace organic contaminants often rely on thick, heavy and more costly mechanical lenses, glass tubes and complicated moving parts.
images courtesty of the UC Berkeley Solar Optics-based
Active Pasteurization (SOAP) for Greywater Reuse and Integrated
Thermal Building Control project.)
Research on the effects of sunlight on microorganisms was first published in 1877, and the UC Berkeley researchers conceded that using solar energy to disinfect water is far from new. But they said there is a growing interest by architects as well as by scientists in the need for water reclamation and reuse in the face of increasingly dire forecasts of global warming and water stress, in arid as well as in tropical regions around the world.
Sustainability may appear fashionable today, Gutierrez said,
yet there are skeptics questioning some of the new construction
approaches being developed to radically advance resource
conservation. “But with the rapid rate and large scales
of new construction — particularly in emerging economies — 10
years from now the need to radically advance building
capabilities will no longer be a matter of choice,” she
Jennifer Wolch, dean of UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental
Design and the William W. Wurster Professor of City and
Regional Planning, said the NSF grant “not only recognizes the
creativity and technical rigor of Paz’s work, but also her rare
ability to integrate architecture and design into cutting edge
work in science and engineering.”
Tom Buresh, a professor of architecture and chair of UC Berkeley’s
architecture department, said the grant “signals an important
moment in architectural research where grants of this
size and type are awarded to a group led by an architect skilled
He said that Gutierrez “is at the forefront of next-generation
designers who collaborate instinctively across disciplines
and seamlessly utilize a combination of artistic and research
practices to address the important issues of our time.”
Wolch said the grant will accelerate the Chilean native’s pioneering
work to develop advanced biomimetic systems to
reduce energy and water utilization in the management of buildings
and will support development of a new, multidisciplinary minor
in biomimetic design at UC Berkeley.
As a part of this “Solar Optics-based Active Pasteurization
(SOAP) for Greywater Reuse and Integrated Thermal
(GRIT) Building Control” project, the researchers will develop
an interdisciplinary research course on new, integrated
water-recycling exterior building wall technologies to move the
manufacturing of new wall systems from micro-scale engineering
to large-scale rapid prototyping.
Gutierrez noted that the Hellman Family Faculty Fund Award for junior faculty, which she received in 2009, provided critical early research support for the current grey water project.
• Information on Maria Paz-Gutierrez’s