The 3D-Printed Bricks With Inbuilt Air Conditioning
A 3D-printed ‘Cool Brick’ which keeps buildings cool by using a natural process of evaporation has been invented. The innovation could signal the start of a trend of ‘breathable’ construction materials that can regulate a building’s temperature without the need for air conditioning or climate control.
Designed by Ronald Rael, Associate Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and Virginia San Fratello, Assistant Professor at San José State University, the Cool Brick could one day make 100% natural, zero-cost air conditioning a reality. Being reliant on nothing but air, water and its own organic matter, this new material could eventually eliminate the need for expensive and environmentally damaging appliances like AC units and humidifiers in countries with warm climates.
How do ‘Cool Bricks’ cool?
It’s all in the physics: Water evaporates if air with a lower dew point (the temperature at which ambient water vapour condenses into liquid) passes by it.
A 3D-printed lattice brick, made from a special type of ceramic, soaks up water, much like a sponge. Then as hot, dry air flows through thousands of micropores in the ‘breathable’ clay, it evaporates the moisture, cools the water particles within and finally circulates an ultra-fine, refreshing mist through the room.
The interlocking design of Cool Bricks means they can be set into mortar to form walls of pretty much any shape and size. And because they’re modular, they can be stacked together easily.
The natural properties of Cool Bricks could open the door to the construction of more organic, breathable buildings in the future. Not only could the innovation deliver huge cost savings in the developed world, but Cool Bricks could be a huge step forward in countries where electricity is expensive or the energy supply is inconsistent.
Such is the excitement surrounding the concept of breathable building materials, that one can imagine a new era of architectural aesthetics ensuing as a by-product of the 3-D printing technique itself, where form and function come together in unique structures that allow imagination to flow as freely as the cool air created by this intriguing development.
Although the exploration of 3D-printing is currently popular within the world of architecture, organic cooling is not as new as it might sound. In fact, the use of 3D-printing is simply adding a new, hi-tech dimension to a lo-tech system that has been used to keep temperatures down in homes in warm climates for centuries.
Since around 2,500 BC, as frescoes from the time lead us to believe, people in hot, dry countries have used the process of natural evaporation to keep cool. An early version of this organic cooling technique was called the 'Muscatese Evaporative System' and involved covering a building's windows with a wooden latticed enclosure which held a porous ceramic jar full of water. Thanks to the high ambient temperatures, the water evaporated into fine vapour, which was cooled and circulated by the incoming breeze. Ronald Rael sees his Cool Brick design as a fusion of cutting edge technology and simple, traditional techniques:
"We look for ways how traditional systems can be incorporated into contemporary lifestyles. We take man's oldest methods of making in clay and we take the latest technology like 3-D printing and put those two things together."
When we imagine the buildings of the future, we tend to think about huge space-age structures made from glass and metallic substrates, whereas innovations like the Cool Brick mean we could actually see more smaller, organic, clay structures that have more in common with the buildings of the past.