Solar chimney a life-saver

Researchers at RMIT University have designed a solar chimney that saves energy – and lives.

While solar chimneys are known for their sustainable features – with the ability to reduce energy usage by up to 50 per cent – the researchers have designed one that is also optimised for fire safety.

The new design is said to have the potential to save lives in the event of a fire, by increasing the amount of time people have to safely evacuate – in fact, a six-fold improvement from two to 14 minutes.

Solar chimneys work on the principle that hot air always rises. The passive solar heating and cooling system typically features a wall of glass next to a wall painted in black, to maximise the absorption of solar radiation.

Vents at the top and bottom of the chimney regulate the airflow for heating and cooling. When the sun warms the air in the chamber, it rises and escapes through the top vent. Meanwhile, it sucks in more air at the bottom, which drives ventilation to naturally cool down a building. The chimney can be closed to direct the heat back into the building when it gets cold outside.

In collaboration with the City of Kingston, the RMIT University researchers designed a solar chimney to maximise its efficiency for both ventilating fresh air and sucking smoke out of a building in case of fire. Less smoke also means better visibility, lower temperatures and reduced carbon monoxide – all of which extends the amount of time for safe evacuation.

“In an emergency situation where every second counts, giving people more time to escape safely is critical,” said Long Shi, an Australian Research Council DECRA Fellow at RMIT.

“Our research demonstrates that solar chimneys offer powerful benefits for both people’s safety and the environment.”

The new design is part of a range of sustainable features built into the new Mentone Reserve Pavilion in Melbourne’s Kingston.

“The solar-chimney that has been installed at the new state-of-the-art Mentone Reserve Pavilion not only allows us to harness clean green energy to heat and cool the building, helping Council achieve its environmental goals, but it also has the potential to save lives in the event of a fire. This is a truly remarkable design,” says Kingston Mayor Georgina Oxley.

Image source: RMIT University/YouTube/Bronja Everaardt

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