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Climate control, termite style

Lund University researchers in Sweden have found that future buildings inspired by termites could achieve the same effect as traditional climate control but with greater energy efficiency and fewer emissions.

According to the researchers, termite mounds have a sophisticated ventilation system that allows air to circulate throughout the structure. This helps maintain and regulate temperature and humidity.

“The digitalisation of design and construction processes creates enormous opportunities for how we shape architecture, and natural and biological systems provide an important model for how we can best utilise these possibilities,” says Lund University Senior Lecturer at the Department of Architecture and Built Environment David Andréen.

The results of the research, published in the journal Frontiers in Materials, show a structure for buildings based on termite mounds that facilitates indoor climate control.

“The study focuses on the interior of termite mounds, which consist of thousands of interconnected channels, tunnels and air chambers, and how these capture wind energy in order to ‘breathe’, or exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide with the surroundings,” Andréen says.

“We have explored how these systems work and how similar structures could be integrated in the walls of buildings to drive the flow of air, heat and moisture in a new way.”

The idea is to create new ways to control the airflow in buildings that will be significantly more energy efficient and climate-smart than traditional air conditioning, which uses the bulk flow principle, normally driven by fans, Andréen says.

“Instead, it is possible to develop systems that are turbulent, dynamic and variable, and these systems can be controlled by very small equipment and require minor energy provision,” he says.

In the study, the researchers demonstrated how airflows interact with geometry, the parameters in the structure that cause the flows to arise, and how they can be selectively regulated. They say these can be driven without using mechanical components such as fans, valves and similar, as only electronic control is required.

“This a precondition for a distributed system in which many small sensors and regulating devices are placed in the climate-adaptive building envelope through miniaturisation, durability/sustainability and cost reduction,” Andréen says. “This enables regulation of the building’s indoor climate and to control factors such as temperature and humidity without relying on large fans and heating and air conditioning systems.

“The mechanisms are dependent on being able to create complex internal geometries (on the millimetre to centimetre scale), which is only possible using 3D printing. Through 3D printing, value can be added to the built environment to create sustainable architecture that otherwise would not have been possible,” Andréen says.

“It’s fascinating how the termites’ building process manages to create extremely complex, well-functioning engineering masterpieces, without having the centralised control or drawings that we would need.”

Read the research paper “Climate-friendly air conditioning inspired by termites” here.

Image courtesy of David Andréen.

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