News Release

National Science Foundation backs major research center for sustainable building technology

Grant and Award Announcement

University of Colorado at Boulder

working on a board controller

image: CU Boulder Architectural engineering PhD student Margarite Jacoby working on a board controller. view more 

Credit: CU Boulder

The University of Colorado Boulder and City College of New York are announcing a joint research center for sustainable building technology.

The Building Energy Smart Technologies (BEST) Center is a five-year initiative funded by the National Science Foundation to advance sustainable buildings and cities ranging from HVAC manufacturing, to smart glazing for windows, smart building controls, advanced insulation materials, new energy storage systems, and improved air quality systems. It will also seek to promote the integration of renewables such as solar systems. 

“This is a long term commitment to solve industry problems and make buildings adaptive,” said Moncef Krarti, director of the center and a professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering at CU Boulder. “Many western countries want to be net zero in carbon emissions by 2050. That’s a significant challenge. To achieve that, we need a new set of innovative and smart technologies. We have to combine energy efficiency, reduce demand, and deploy renewable energy into buildings so they can be a net positive, actually producing energy, not just consuming power.”

The NSF grant will provide $1.5 million over five years, matched by industry associates for a total of at least $3.0 million. Ten industry partners are already onboard with the initiative. 

CU Boulder will be leading the center, with CCNY as a partner site. The effort is focused on business collaboration, directing research into areas needed for the construction industry and building retrofits. 

The work in New York will be led by Jorge González, Presidential Professor of Mechanical Engineering at CCNY.

“This is a major milestone and opportunity, as it validates our long-term efforts in research and education on building systems as supporting activity to our city,” González said. “We will be providing engineering and technology solutions to connect the outdoors environment to the indoors of buildings to enable smart and sustainable responses.”

The new center will operate under the NSF Industry-University Cooperative Research Centers model. This setup is designed to help startups, large corporate partners and government agencies connect directly with university researchers to solve common research obstacles in a low-risk environment. 

The aim is to develop new technology faster and build out the U.S. workforce in critical areas.

“This will be a long-term collaboration with industry partners of the building sector that will allow us to collectively identify emerging needs and opportunities, facilitate effective R&D roadmaps and executions, and most importantly provide opportunities for workforce development by training our undergraduate and graduate students with the needed skills to be employed by the industry partners,” González said.

In addition to meeting emissions goals, new smart and adaptable technologies in the built environment will provide responses for increasingly frequent extreme weather events due to the rapidly changing climate. The work will also direct attention on emerging challenges in the building sector due to pandemics and health crises such as those caused by COVID-19.

“It’s hard for industry to fund research, but this center is a vehicle to that collaboration. It’s a big deal,” Krarti said. “We spend 80% of our time in buildings. We need to make sure buildings are sustainable and healthy as well as comfortable.” 

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