Growing Alternative Sustainable Buildings: Biocomposite Products from Natural Fiber, Biodegradable and Recyclable Polymer Materials for Load-bearing Construction Components

EPA Grant Number: SU833202
Title: Growing Alternative Sustainable Buildings: Biocomposite Products from Natural Fiber, Biodegradable and Recyclable Polymer Materials for Load-bearing Construction Components
Investigators: Skerlos, Steven J. , Popp, Sarah Ann , Heininger, Eric C. , Bard, Joshua D. , Cox, Brandon E. , Bayer, Carrie E. , Jelinek, Steven J. , Putalik, Erin S. , Stepowski, John S. , Kerfoot, Katherine S. , Freeman, Jeremy W. , Keoleian, Greg , Zhang, Han , Giles, Harry , Cho, Michelle , Yamamoto, Mitsuyo , Robertson, Richard , Lin, Shangchao , Driver, Stephanie , DiCorcia, Thomas
Institution: University of Michigan
EPA Project Officer: Page, Angela
Phase: II
Project Period: September 1, 2006 through August 31, 2008
Project Amount: $75,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet - Phase 2 (2006) Recipients Lists
Research Category: Nanotechnology , P3 Challenge Area - Built Environment , Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Awards , Sustainability


Buildings (residential and commercial) account for about 40% of the total annual energy consumption in the United States of America, they produce 35% of the total carbon dioxide emissions, and attribute 40% of landfill wastes. The building industry is also a large consumer of non-renewable materials and this trend has escalated dramatically over the past century. To this end, we have been addressing sustainability concerns related to building construction materials through an integrative research approach applied to building façade elements where we can collectively influence design, materials, construction, energy consumption and disposal. We have been carrying out preliminary research in the design development phase of this project and during the second phase, we plan to create a framework and implementation plan for manufacturing, erection, use and disposal. The final outcome for construction will be an inevitable symbiosis of the process itself. The end result will be to propose a range of building products for transparent and translucent façade enclosures that holistically embrace all the manufacturing and end use issues from cradle to grave and life thereafter, using bio-composite and recyclable polymer materials. We have been modeling our research project on technologies and materials that will form a new paradigm that rethinks the design of building enclosures in the future. Alternative typologies of transparent and translucent load-bearing façade systems based on biocomposite and recyclable materials were investigated architecturally, structurally, thermally, materially and environmentally. Together with the means of manufacture, we show how efficiencies were obtained and verified. The success of the project clearly shows the future potential for biocomposite façade systems which ultimately contribute to reducing energy consumption, pollutant emissions and non-renewable material uses. In order to progress our research, we set out to investigate the potential for using biocomposite and recyclable polymer materials in buildings, associated with all the external factors that would affect this choice. To this end we set the following objectives for the project:

  • Evaluate the panels to improve thermal performance
  • Determine the influence of air leakage on performance
  • Optimize maximum panel sizes for manufacture and installation
  • Evaluate the inclusion of 3rd glazing (middle) layer to improve performance
  • Optimization of material properties for structural performance
  • Optimization of composite core vs skin thickness for structural performance
  • Impact testing and resistance for high performance applications
  • Further environmental impact analysis
  • Further building modeling to more accurately quantify energy performance compared to other systems
  • Develop parametric optimization methods to customize the cell sizes
  • Development of software evaluation tools

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 1 publications for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

ecological effects, bioavailability, ecosystem, habitat, integrated assessment, green chemistry, life-cycle analysis, alternatives, sustainable development, clean technologies, innovative technology, renewable, waste reduction, waste minimization, cost benefit, public good, conservation, environmental assets, engineering, ecology, analytical, EPA regions, agriculture, industry, building construction, manufacturing methods, technology transfer, product design,, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Sustainable Industry/Business, POLLUTION PREVENTION, Sustainable Environment, Energy, Technology for Sustainable Environment, Environmental Engineering, energy conservation, polymer composite materials, sustainable development, environmental sustainability, environmental conscious construction, recycled polymers, alternative materials, conservation, clean manufacturing

Relevant Websites:

Phase 1 Abstract

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2007
  • Final Report

  • P3 Phase I:

    Growing Alternative Sustainable Buildings: Bio-composite Products from Natural Fiber, Biodegradable and Recyclable Polymer Materials for Load-bearing Construction Components  | Final Report