Constructing a zero-energy hotel: Air conditioning without electricity or fans

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Canadian Design and Construction Report staff writer

Can you build a viable zero-energy hotel, without air conditioning?

Ben Bronsema, an 80-year old recent Ph.D. graduate at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, believes he has solved the challenge – and, more significantly, has found a hotel developer willing to construct the project.

The structure can air condition itself without electricity, electric run fans or other standard power sources.

The Dutch Green Company, an Amsterdam based developer, plans to use the engineer’s idea to construct the “first (nearly) zero-energy hotel” and complete the work by 2017.

The initiative takes its inspiration from termites. In a 2013 TED Talk, Bronsema observed that the insects use natural cooling to maintain a constant temperature of their mounds, which grow the fungus they live on. He then took the idea to university level researchers to validate the process.

How does the building’s energy free air conditioning operate? In the concept demonstrated on video, wind flows through an overhang above the building’s roof. The wind then enters building directly, through a vent. The air is used for not only air conditioning, but also energy production, generated through wind turbines. Before air enters the occupied spaces, water is sprayed, cooling it in the summer and warming it in the winter. Bronsema says the soil below has a consistent 11 to 12-degree C temperature, providing a control on the water temperature.

“People in America don’t believe in air conditioning without fans,” he said. “‘Well that’s crazy, that can never work,’ they say. But it will work, and we have to show it will work,” said Bronsema on the credulity of his method, according to Fast Coexist.

Bronsema believes the entire process will much quieter than noisy electronic air conditioning systems, creating a more serene and peaceful atmosphere.

“We don’t need an air conditioning plant in these buildings,” he said. “The building itself is the machine for air conditioning, if it can be applied.”

“The proof will be in the eating,” he concluded. “It’s very important the hotel is finished and people can come and experience it themselves.” In an article reviewing the concept, writer Shane Hedmond observed the concept may have severe humidity related problems.

“The use of water cooling will certainly reduce the dry air effect, but it will be interesting to see how adding water to an already humid air will affect indoor air quality and conditions,” he wrote. “High moisture content inside buildings accelerate the natural aging of materials, greatly increase the risk of mould growth, and also corrode metal over time.”

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