A Bio-inspired Solution to Mitigate Urban Heat Island Effects

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Virginia Tech

Over the last decade, rapidly growing world energy consumption is leading to supply difficulties, exhaustion of fossil energy resources, and global environmental deterioration. More than one-third of energy expenditure is attributable to buildings. Urbanization is intensifying these trends with tighter spatial interrelationships among buildings. This is escalating building energy consumption due to the mutual impact of buildings on each other and, as a result, exacerbating Urban Heat Island (UHI) effects. I sought solutions to this significant engineering issue from nature, and discovered a similar heat island effect in flowers, namely the micro-greenhouse effect. However, a special cooling effect has been observed in a peculiar temperate flower, Galanthus nivalis, which generates cooler intrafloral temperatures. In this research, I studied the special retro-reflectance of the flower petals, which has been suggested as a possible contributor to this cooling effect, and implemented a bio-inspired retro-reflective pattern for building envelopes. I conducted cross-regional energy simulation of building networks in a dynamic simulation environment in order to examine its thermal-energy impact. I found that building surface temperatures dropped considerably when neighboring buildings were retrofitted with my bio-inspired retro-reflective facade. I concluded that my bio-inspired retro-reflective pattern for building envelopes; (1) lessens the reflected heat of solar radiation in spatially-proximal buildings leading to reduced UHI, and (2) reduces the energy required for cooling and, therefore, energy consumption. The research has further implications and contributions on building design, urban planning, development of retro-reflective technology, and environmental conservation.

Bio-Inspired Design, Building Networks, Inter-Building Effects, Mutual Reflection, Urban Heat Island Effects