Self-Actuating, Thermally-Responsive, Laminated Bio-Composite for Retrofit



Photo of Nick Braaksma

Nick Braaksma

Bates Masi + Architects


Photo of Malini Srivastava, AIA

Malini Srivastava, AIA

North Dakota State University


Photo of Chad Ulven

Chad Ulven

North Dakota State University




Cost-effective, sustainable, self-actuating, thermally-responsive, bio-composite exo-skins that act like shields or cloaks for existing buildings could reduce the energy demand for existing buildings, achieving the benefits of a retrofit without the complicated and invasive processes of a traditional retrofit procedure.

This paper describes the research to develop an advanced bio-composite to be utilized as an environmental modulating layer for building envelopes in order to reduce energy use. Conceptually and in laboratory tests this material is a laminated, thermally-responsive, self-actuating, advanced bio-composite smart material. Designed in various geometries, this material can be utilized as an applied and independent exterior building layer or exo-skin, responding to environmental conditions in order to create non-invasive retrofitting that can “shield or cloak” existing buildings, in order to modulate heat gains and light, ultimately, improving building energy efficiency. Initial digital modeling and lab-testing, has demonstrated the thermally-responsive dynamic capabilities of the material and the resultant patterns in which it can be designed and deployed as a cloak or shield to achieve energy-use reductions. Laminated smart materials that have been developed thus far are for the large part focused on bimetals or petroleum products. This research is targeted to developing a bio-based smart material alternative from a renewable resource. With a strong agriculture industry, the region in which the authors are located expands the renewable source stream is available on a short and regular cycle.


Of all sectors, buildings have the largest share of energy use in the United States and therefore a large role to play in efforts to reduce energy use and impact

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Climate Adaptive Building Shells (CAB)

In recent years, high energy performance architecture has split into two alternative directions: active technologies and passive strategies (Loonen 2010, Loonen et al 2013). Active

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This research is based on laminating two materials with different coefficients of thermal expansion together to achieve a bending deformation along the length of the strand when heated. In the

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Sourced from Composites Evolution, a worldwide supplier of composite materials based in Chesterfield UK, Biotex Flax is the base material for the five samples that were tested in the laboratory

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Some of the results obtained thus far were surprising especially during the cooling cycle. The laminated bio-composites respond differently to heating and cooling cycles. The cooling cycle changes indicate that

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Conclusion and Future Work

This testing demonstrates that a thermally activated, self-actuating, laminated bio-composite structure could be made. In a sample size of 457.2 mm (18 in) by 50.8 mm (2 in), as much

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This early research was completed with seed funding by Department of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, North Dakota State University. Patrick Simpson (2016 Graduate Research Assistant, Mechanical Engineering) completed the laboratory tests including materials samples.

Rights and Permissions

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