In 2014, the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC) developed a new type of building material known as "Hydroceramic", which responds to external temperature variations and automatically switches from cooling to insulating and vice versa.
By now we are all completely used to technologies that combine to warm or cool our homes and workplaces. Although these systems are designed to be ever more efficient in their energy consumption, they still involve considerable costs, both for users and for the environment.
This is why research in this area is still highly important… and, fortunately, occasionally comes up with extremely promising results, as in this case. Hydroceramic is a material that contains countless hydrogel bubbles which interact with the environment… the point being that hydrogels are able to absorb and retain 500 times their weight in water.
According to Eco & Sustainability, Spain's IAAC institute student researchers developed a ceramic building material containing hydrogel bubbles which can be loaded with water so that on a hot day the liquid in each ball begins to evaporate. When this happens, a decrease in the temperature of the hydrogel occurs. This means the actual materials of the building cool down organically when the sun is shining, in the same way that sweat cools the skin when it evaporates. The modules then refill when it rains, insulating the building once more.
The final Hydroceramic prototype showed itself to be capable of lowering the temperature of the indoor environment by between 5 and 6 degrees. Its passive embedded intelligence makes its performance directly proportional to the temperature of the outdoor environment, i.e. it cools more when it is hotter and stops cooling when no evaporation is taking place.
These results were measured by an experiment set up to test the effect of hydrogel in reducing the temperature of a closed environment, at the same time establishing that clay is the best material to house the hydrogel: Clay, Aluminum and Acrylic were all tested against a control, and the results showed that the porous nature of clay makes it the best option to aid the cooling properties of hydrogel.
It was calculated that the use of Hydroceramic in buildings could avoid up to 28 percent of the overall electricity consumption caused by traditional A/Cs, and also that the material acts as a cheaper alternative building technology, given the low cost of both clay and hydrogel.
In other words, the Institute of Advanced Architecture of Catalonia demonstrated a way to redefine and embed ‘intelligence’ into a building’s environment by using responsive materials, designing and implementing systems to aid the building’s performance through digital simulation and fabrication.
The building’s environment would then become, and behave like, a living entity: something part of nature and not outside of it. Buildings would start working like organisms, with biological systems involving inbuilt live processes between the building and its surroundings.