Alumnus constructing first-ever net-zero energy building in El Salvador
MechSE alumnus Luis Martinez (MSME ’07, PhD ME ’09) is working on a net-zero energy building that will be the first of its kind in El Salvador. The 1,076 square-foot building will be used to gather climate-related data and perform environmental experiments.
“We are trying to describe how the geometry, building systems, and climate affect building energy consumption and thermal comfort,” Martinez said. “(We want to) find ways to optimize life cycle cost in a way that allows us to suggest modifications or updates on national energy codes and standards as well as design methodologies and tools.”
The building is under construction at the Universidad Centroamericana Jose Simeon Canas in San Salvador, where Martinez is a professor and head of the Department of Energy and Thermodynamics. It was designed by a team of engineers and architects from the university, with input and research from many undergrad and graduate students. With a budget of about $400K, including a grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the building’s construction is scheduled to be completed in October of this year.
Martinez’s research focuses on the energy efficiency of buildings in tropical climates. He gained his first experience in net-zero energy applications as a student on the Illinois Solar Decathlon team, where he was in charge of modeling energy performance of their building.
“That was an extraordinary experience for me,” Martinez said of his participation on the team. “I decided that one day I would replicate something similar in El Salvador.”
He is now doing just that. Once the building is completed, he will monitor energy consumption, weather conditions, surface air temperature, and air velocity throughout the building in order to study how energy consumption and thermal behavior are affected by the building’s operation. He will also conduct experiments to determine how the building behaves while operating under natural ventilation as compared to a combination of ventilation and mechanical cooling.
He hopes that the success of the building will spark further construction across the country. Other countries, such as Germany, receive less average annual solar radiation than El Salvador, but have multiple high performance net-zero energy buildings already in use.
“In Central America, our building will be the first net-zero energy laboratory ever built,” Martinez said. “I hope the building will show the public how setting high sustainability goals is possible and even more feasible than it is in other regions.”