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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Sep/Oct 2005 : Corporate Acts

Corporate Acts

Lighting the Way
Cabot Corporation is advancing the research and development of recyclable materials that improve the performance of buildings and the well-being of their occupants.

by James Satterwhite

 

As green building migrates from Europe and proliferates in the United States, one company is leading the way in harnessing new technologies to increase the quality and quantity of daylighting brought to indoor environments without sacrificing energy efficiency.

Cabot Corporation, located in the heart of Boston, offers the latest in research and development in green construction trends, by working with industry professionals to advance recyclable environmentally friendly materials that combine high light transmission with energy efficiency, sound insulation and permanent performance.

Green building is the practice of increasing the efficiency in how buildings and their sites use energy and materials. These buildings are designed to significantly reduce or eliminate negative impacts on the environment and minimize the depletion of natural resources. In fact, green building is an essential component of sustainable design and sustainable development, giving property owners lower operating costs while improving the health and well-being of their occupants.

There are varying aspects of green building, one of which is daylighting applications that come in the form of glazed facades, skylights and translucent roofing systems. The benefits of natural daylight are widely recognized to contribute to the well-being of occupants. Fenestration systems—the design of windows and doors in buildings—have been the weak energy link in building envelopes. Technology advancements such as multiple glazing systems have improved fenestration systems, but not nearly enough to comply with many of today’s new and pending building codes and restrictions around the nation. One solution is simple, involving the incorporation of Cabot’s translucent aerogel insulation into design and construction applications to improve visual aesthetics, reduce energy costs and enhance the quality of indoor environments responsibly.

In response to the call for a higher standard of energy-efficient building materials and stricter energy building codes, Cabot Corporation commercially manufactured Nanogel® translucent aerogel. The feather-light aerogel is the lightest solid on earth and is based on Cabot’s patented surface modification and fine-particle manufacturing technology. Due to its composition (it is 95 percent air), low density and porosity, Nanogel is a poor conductor of heat, and therefore a great thermal insulator. It provides a superior combination of thermal and sound insulation, as well as light transmission and diffusion over other insulation materials. These benefits offer new design solutions for architects and commercial builders in projects in which both natural daylight levels and energy efficiency are required. In fact, NASA first used aerogels as insulation in aerospace applications.

Milwaukee Zoo’s Green Exhibit
The art of green building daylighting applications has taken off across the country in structures such as residences, schools, atriums and, most recently, zoos. The newly opened big cat exhibit at the Milwaukee Zoo is among the latest in building sites moving toward this environmentally friendly construction alternative.

The state of Wisconsin is just one of the many states in the country enforcing stricter energy codes on all new and existing building envelopes. One of the first building projects under these stricter guidelines was a complete retrofit of the energy-inefficient, 1960s-era concrete and sprayed concrete rockwork Feline House building. The project included the removal of the entire built-up roofing system, and the replacement of nearly 50 percent of the roof area with ridge- and shed-configuration skylights. The lion’s den contains an approximately 34-by-34-foot ridge skylight that contains Nanogel aerogel, making it the first commercial building of its kind to house large animals while keeping energy costs down for the zoo.

“ One unintended effect of this mandate is that the healthy effects of daylight on mammals, including humans, are minimized for the sake of energy efficiency,” says Dale Nielsen, owner of Nielsen Building Systems, in Wisconsin, which provided the roofing for the exhibit. With this in mind, the daylight needs of the animals were of primary concern to Dr. Bruce Beehler, deputy zoo director of the Milwaukee Zoo, who oversees animal exhibits and buildings including the popular feline exhibit. “A natural light cycle and a feeling of openness are necessary to create a healthy indoor environment for the animals,” Beehler says. “Studies show that daylight positively affects the reproductive cycles of animals, and is essential for the production of vitamin D.”

With the increased size of the exhibit and a more natural daylight environment, the zoo has room for more cats in the Feline House. New additions are planned, and hopes are high that the Milwaukee Zoo will be able to breed at least two species, including lions and Siberian tigers.

Residential Applications
Energy-efficient green building is also taking form in residential building in the southeastern United States. Centerpoint Translucent Systems, a manufacturer and distributor of residential roofing products, and Cabot Corporation have teamed up to offer developers and homeowners a needed energy-efficient option to the standard glass skylight. The Centerpoint translucent roofs allow natural, diffused daylight to penetrate into home living areas without the energy loss and increased heating and cooling costs associated with traditional glass roof inserts. Nanogel also allows diffused, full-spectrum light to penetrate deeper into indoor environments; this provides residents with greater access to natural daylight, and the associated mental and physical health benefits.

“ The reduced energy costs due to thermal insulation levels that are significantly higher than traditional systems is the first step toward homeowners contributing to a greener environment,” says Kendall Sayers, president of Centerpoint Translucent Roofing Systems. “As soon as people walk into their home with these roofs, they are drawn to the cozy, relaxing environments they create. Buyers are further pleased to learn that the insulation can provide up to five times the energy efficiency of glass panels, and can actually save them money by reducing heating and cooling costs,” added Dereck J. Lee, president of Advanced Builders in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Many executives, builders and developing companies involved in the green building boom have noticed the overwhelming benefits of this environmental trend. Many have reported an increase in construction activity, and expect this growth to accelerate. The function of green building and energy-efficient daylighting alternatives is an important trend, and a necessity to improve the environment we all share.


James Satterwhite is director of Nanogel building and construction for Cabot Corp. in Boston, Mass., a specialty chemicals and materials company.

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