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The award-winning Phase Change Matters blog tracks the latest news and research on phase change materials and thermal energy storage. E-mail tips and comments to Ben Welter, communications director at Entropy Solutions. Follow the blog on Twitter at @PureTemp. Subscribe to the monthly PCM newsletter. Or join the discussion on LinkedIn.




ABM aims to cut energy, operating costs in Southern California federal buildings by $48M

Ben Welter - Friday, October 16, 2015

Facilities management provider ABM Industries has signed a contract with the U.S. General Services Administration to begin a second phase of energy and facility improvements to federal buildings in California, including the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building in Los Angeles, the U.S. Social Security Building in Huntington Park, the Ronald Reagan Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Santa Ana and the 300 North Los Angeles (NLA) Building. According to ABM:

"In all, ABM's Bundled Energy Solutions program guarantees savings of at least $48.4 million in energy and operating costs over the next 20 years through its innovative, long-term financing solution, reducing the buildings' energy use by 38 percent. ABM recently completed the first phase of the multi-million dollar contract for GSA which centered on retrofitting the central plant's HVAC system and upgrading building automation controls to regulate energy usage. This upgrade is expected to reduce energy consumption by 25 percent. The central plant is shared by the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building and the 300 NLA Building."

Conservation measures include LED lighting, transformer upgrades, solar window tinting and phase change technology that will help save energy by absorbing and releasing heat, offsetting heating and cooling loads in the NLA Building.

Voting is open for Solar Decathlon 'fan favorite'

Ben Welter - Friday, October 16, 2015

Fourteen houses entered in the U.S. Energy Department's 2015 Solar Decathlon have been assembled in Irvine, Calif., and are on public display through Sunday. It's a diverse collection of energy-efficient dwellings designed by collegiate teams from the United States, Germany, Honduras and Panama. The teams and their solar-powered houses are competing in 10 contests to determine an overall winner. Judges award points based on a home's affordability, attractiveness, comfort and net energy consumption. The winner will be announced Saturday.

Can't make it to Irvine this weekend? You can tour the houses online and vote for your favorite. Voting ends Sunday; the "fan favorite" will be announced on Monday.

Sustainability firm's CEO spreads the word on PCMs

Ben Welter - Friday, October 16, 2015

Kristen VictorKristen Victor, the founder and CEO of a San Diego firm that advises commercial builders on sustainable technologies, is helping others understand how phase change materials can improve building performance. In an interview with the Union-Tribune, she describes how Sustainability Matters helped to develop passive cooling systems for a U.S. Olympic archery training center and a passive house in San Diego County:

"We worked to incorporate a new technology called BioPCM, a specially formulated material that is installed within the roof and exterior walls. BioPCM naturally absorbs excess heat during the day, stores it, and then releases it at night. This passive solution helps minimize the need for energy-intensive heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. As a result, the Easton Archery Center, located in Chula Vista, maintains an internal temperature of 75 degrees without the use of air-conditioning. ...

"Most of our solutions are applicable in both commercial and residential settings. Sustainability Matters recently teamed with Alliance Green Builders to build a passive house in North County called Casa Aguila. It's the most advanced home ever built in San Diego County. It features an onsite wastewater treatment system, BioPCM phase change material, a rainwater collection system, solar water heating and several other innovative systems and technologies."

Off-grid passive house packed with high-performance material from around the world

Ben Welter - Friday, September 25, 2015

Building a passive house off-grid without the use of foam insulation or other potentially harmful materials can be a challenge. Architect Andrew Michler scoured the world for the high-performance material used in MARTaK, Colorado's first certified International Passive House. Among the components used in Michler's 1,200-square-foot guest house in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains near Fort Collins: 

Applegate loose-fill cellulose insulation
Roxul mineral wool batt
Air Pohoda heat-recovery ventilator
Eco-Bond nontoxic caulk
Tescon Vana air sealing tape
• ABS pipe to replace PVC

BioPCmat 51

Above: BioPCmat 51, a phase change material designed to absorb and release heat, is installed on two interior walls to even out temperature spikes.

Registration open for 2016 ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit

Ben Welter - Thursday, September 17, 2015

Registration for the 2016 ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit is now open. The summit, which is aimed at moving transformational energy technologies out of the lab and into the marketplace, will be held Feb. 29-March 2 at the Gaylord Convention Center outside Washington, D.C.

More than 2,100 people attended the 2015 summit. Next year's showcase participants include Argonne National Laboratory, BASF, the Electric Power Research Institute and the National Renewable Energy Lab.

Sonoco makes Dow Jones sustainability index for 7th straight year

Ben Welter - Thursday, September 17, 2015

Sonoco, a global provider of packaging products and services, has made the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index for the seventh consecutive year. The honor comes following an in-depth analysis of financial material and economic, environmental and social practices of more than 3,500 invited companies.

Sonoco logo“Only three global packaging companies were recognized with listings on DJSI World Index in 2015, and I’m proud to say that Sonoco has the longest consecutive streak of any packaging company currently listed,” said Jack Sanders, Sonoco president and CEO. “This honor recognizes our dedication to reducing the environmental footprint from our global operations, providing a safe and healthy workplace for our employees, developing innovative packaging and recycling solutions to meet our customers’ sustainability goals and contributing to the communities where we operate.”

'Post-occupancy evaluation' gains traction among sustainability architects

Ben Welter - Friday, August 07, 2015

Dr. Nancy Foster Florida Keys Environmental Center

"Post-occupancy evaluation," the process of measuring a new building's actual performance, is an essential part of the design feedback loop. Is that impressive-looking thermal energy storage system delivering the projected energy savings? POE is gaining momentum among sustainability architects to address the frequent gap between promises and reality, Peter Fairley writes in this month's issue of Architectural Record. 

Does this scenario sound familiar?

"The value of getting feedback on projects hit home for [New Orleans–based Eskew+Dumez+Ripple] after the opening of its first LEED-certified building: the Dr. Nancy Foster Florida Keys Environmental Center [show above] in Key West. The 30,000-square-foot multipurpose facility, occupied by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2006, was predicted to consume 735,000 kilowatt-hours per year—28 percent fewer than the ASHRAE baseline. In its first two years of operation, however, the LEED Silver building was consuming almost twice that amount.

"Faulty settings in the building-management system were the culprit: two months after commissioning, a software upgrade wiped out the settings tuned by the commissioning agent. A local consultant's efforts to fix the problem fell short. Ultimately, humidity and mold issues convinced the owner to bring Eskew+Dumez+Ripple and the commissioning agent back into the picture nearly two years later. The problems were then quickly resolved. Energy consumption immediately fell below what designers had originally predicted.

"Eskew+Dumez+Ripple determined that from that point forward they would attempt to track energy consumption of all their LEED projects. They wanted to understand the variables affecting performance and get a jump on any issues that arose. "

'Pioneering' Crossway Passive House featured on 'Grand Designs'

Ben Welter - Thursday, July 30, 2015

Crossway Passive House

Renowned architect Richard Hawkes' Crossway Passive House, completed in 2009, gets another look on this week's episode of the British TV series "Grand Designs."  

"The iconic feature of this pioneering house," writes Building Construction Design, "is a scarily thin soaring arched roof. Made by gluing clay tiles together using Plaster of Paris without any formwork, this in turn supports over 100 tons of soil which is now host to a thriving wildflower habitat."

The 3,000-square-foot home is packed with energy-efficient technology, including 580 liters of phase change thermal storage and DuPont Energain PCM panels in the south-facing rooms.  

N.Y. conference on renewable energy set for Sept. 24-25

Ben Welter - Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Registration is open for the REV4NY conference and expo in New York City Sept. 24-25. 

"Reforming the Energy Vision" – REV – is New York State's effort to pave the way for utilities, homeowners and businesses to adopt renewable energy technology more easily.

The conference agenda and list of speakers are still in flux, but Day 1 includes a session on integrating behind-the-meter storage with solar, EV and other technologies. Networking sessions and opportunities to explore partnerships are also on the agenda.

Super smart grid could handle massive expansion of renewables, professor says

Ben Welter - Thursday, June 18, 2015

Prof. Sean Meyn, University of FloridaThe sun shines until clouds move in or night falls. The wind blows until it doesn't. How can utilities working to harness these sources of renewable energy account for their variability? 

The obvious answer is batteries. In a piece posted on, Sean Meyn, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at University of Florida, offers another approach: 

"California plans to spend billions of dollars for batteries to even out the flow of power from solar and wind, much the way shock absorbers smooth out bumps on the road. But do they need to? Not at all!

"In my research, I’ve found that we can accommodate a grid powered 50% by renewable energy without the use of batteries.

"Systems flexible enough to accommodate the ups and downs of solar and wind production can be made by adjusting the power at millions of homes and businesses on a minute-by-minute or even second-by-second basis. This approach requires no new hardware, some control software and a bit of consumer engagement."