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3D-Printed Air Diffusion System Aims to Reduce Emissions and Enhance Distribution

The development of SR2, a robotically 3D-printed air diffusion system, aims to bring duct work into the future, saving carbon emissions and enhancing airflow in buildings. (Image courtesy of University of Technology Sydney.)

Reducing carbon emissions, constructing smart buildings and incorporating environmentally friendly materials are nothing new to the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry, but there are still challenges considering the plethora of components that make up a building. A team from BVN Architecture and the University of Technology Sydney set their sights on tackling a vital but often overlooked component using 3D printing: air distribution systems.

“At BVN, we are also mindful that the electrical, plumbing and mechanical systems inside a building contribute up to 33 percent of the total carbon cost of a typical office building,” said Ninotschka Titchkosky, BVN Architecture co-CEO. “This means if we are to be serious about reducing the carbon impact of building design, we have to also rethink how we deliver air in buildings.”

Steel has long been the standard go-to material for ductwork. Considering that “every ton of steel produced in 2018 emitted on average 1.85 tons of carbon dioxide, equating to about 8 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions,” a move away from it use is necessary in the AEC industry, which, according to the research team, is responsible for nearly 40 percent of annual global greenhouse gas emissions.

Systems Reef 2 (SR2) is positioned to change the norm. This air diffusion system, not duct system, is based on dispersing air. Instead of steel, it is robotically 3D printed with recycled plastic. The team is working with the PET polymer group, which is self-extinguishing—a critical concern for a building—has tighter tolerances, increased performance and greater flexibility.

SR2 components are printed with a base PET, a thermoplastic polymer resin of the polyester family that is biodegradable, semi-crystalline and self-extinguishing. (Image courtesy of University of Technology Sydney.)

Along with being 3D printed and using advanced manufacturing, especially computational design, SR2 allows for more aerodynamics with integrated porosity. 3D printing enables a reduction in sections needed by 75 percent, in length by 33 percent and in operating energy by 10 percent. These prefabricated custom parts enable the optimization of airflow while also providing savings in material cost and labor.

Using an industrial robot, raw plastic pellets are placed in custom pores in tubes, enabling the formation of a system, which the team designed to fit existing duct work while still incorporating organic curves instead of square corners via computer modeling. This allows for better airflow and less energy loss.

“Rather than dumping air at routine intervals across a floorplan, this design distributes the air evenly: meaning that there is a more consistent air temperature and flow, and nobody needs to sit under the cold draught of a high-powered vent,” Associate Professor Schork said.

BVN’s Sydney Studio has been the team’s test subject. The building has 0.62 miles of ductwork, 75 percent of which could be replaced with SR2. According to the team, the projected results would produce a 90 percent savings in embodied carbon. The 13.21 tons of waste plastic used would replace 54 tons of steel, equating to a 76 percent savings. SR2 is designed for adaptability, easy installation and is fully recyclable.

Interested in other ways the AEC industry is embracing innovation? Check out 3D Printing Concrete Material Could Transform Architecture and Construction and Smart Brick Could Change Energy Storage in Buildings .

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