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Energy Efficiency and Sustainability in Buildings and Environment


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Radiative cooling system for thermoelectric power plants and buildings

Making thermoelectric power plants more independent from the nation's water supply infrastructure while operating with high efficiency can yield significant benefits to agricultural, municipal, and industrial sectors. Radiative cooling modules and systems (RadiCold) developed in this project will provide supplemental cooling technology for dry-cooling systems and thus enhance the power plant's efficiency. This project is developing advanced RadiCold surface, single-phase thermosiphon cold collection, and second stage cold storage system with low pump-power-consumption pipe network. The radiative cooling system can be also applied to small/medium size commercial and residential buildings.

Radiative cooling system for single-house building application

Development of green building/construction material using fly ash and Trona ore

This project is developing two valuable materials that are potentially applied for buildings and constructions using fly ash (a kind of waste) and abundant resource - Trona ore: silica or silica/aluminum aerogel and high volume fly ash concrete with nano-SiO2.

Solid reaction process for specific Trona ore/fly ash ratio under 850oC temperature

Sodium silicate solution

Phase change material (PCM) integrated thermoelectric (TE) cooling system for building application

Heating and cooling of buildings represents more than 13% of all energy consumed in the U.S. (about 12 Qbtu of primary energy annually) and accounts for about 13% of the domestic greenhouse gas emissions. Air conditioning devices generate a major cause of the ozone depletion problem. Development of the next generation, especially non-vapor compression refrigeration technology, is vital for environmental sustainability and energy security.

The thermoelectric (TE) cooling has advantages over conventional vapor compression cooling such as no mechanical moving parts, no refrigerant, and being powered by direct current. However, the TE cooling has been suffering from relatively high cost and low performance efficiency. Aiming to application in buildings, a prototype thermoelectric cooling system has been developed by integrating with phase change material (PCM) for thermal energy storage. The PCM thermal storage unit functions as a heat sink during daytime and creates lower hot side temperature for the TE cooling device using “free” night cooling. Experimental tests of the PCM-TE prototype system in a reduced-scale chamber have realized an average cooling COP of 0.87, with the maximum value of 1.22. The comparison test for efficacy of PCM thermal storage shows that about 35% electrical energy can be saved. A simulation tool for the whole PCM-TE system has been developed using a modified effective thermal conductivity to better capture the natural convection effects during the PCM charging process, leading to a modeling-based design procedure for the PCM-TE cooling system.

Photograph of the PCM thermal storage unit

Photograph of the thermoelectric cooling unit

Schematic diagram of the experimental setup for the PCM-TE system

Monitor real-time and detailed indoor environment using POD-LSE technique

Detailed real-time monitoring of building environment holds significant potential for improving HVAC system’s control, operation, and delivery strategies for improving energy efficiency and effectiveness of “smart” buildings. Current existing indoor environmental monitoring methods rely on assumptions of uniform conditions and average parameters that are knowingly poor for most building environments where parameters such as airflows, temperatures, and contaminant distributions are constantly changing. This research establishes a methodology for using a coupled Proper Orthogonal Decomposition – Linear Stochastic Estimation (POD-LSE) technique to reconstruct detailed real-time building environmental temperature and velocity fields using a limited number of monitoring measurements. This research also assesses the applicability of the proposed methodology for monitoring mechanically ventilated and naturally ventilated building environmental conditions based on experimentation and numerical simulation. The detailed real-time environmental information provided by the methodology is successfully used in a select number of building environment applications and promises to open the door for more advanced monitoring research to improve HVAC system control, and ultimately energy efficiency.

Schematic layout of the velocity probes

and photograph of the experimental setup for airflows across window opening

Comparison of the measured and POD-LSE reconstructed velocity fluctuations

Predict under floor air distribution (UFAD) using zonal model

In mechanical ventilation, the mixing under floor air distribution (UFAD) is one of the efficient ventilation systems. To predict indoor environment under mechanical ventilation, zonal model has its own advantages such as low computational cost compared to CFD but providing somehow environmental details compared to the multi-zone model. Potential of applying zonal model to simulate indoor airflow and temperature distributions in a lab-scale mixing UFAD has been studied. A computer program from the re-derived zonal model has been developed by disaggregating natural convection and forced (mechanical) convection. Lab experimental tests validated the re-derived zonal model can accurately predict temperature distribution and reasonably estimate airflows for mixing UFAD ventilation with very fast calculation speed.

Sketch of UFAD experiment lab

Experimental measurements of air velocity and temperature


The improvements in reservoir characterization and resource extraction technologies generated a boom in oil and natural gas industry in the United States but this also resulted in a big challenge for the management of the produced water. The ongoing research is focusing on 1) development of advanced multi-scale modeling techniques for enhancement of the membrane design and development process in order to locate better performance and more energy efficient desalination technologies, 2) development of fundamental mechanism of removing Li+ in produced water using electrodialysis technique and a membrane system to lower the energy consumption and polarization phenomenon.

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