Exploring Boston's Green Build Expo
Posted 12/01/2017 08:42AM

Members of the Prep's Science and Technology Club explored the latest developments in green building technologies during a fascinating trip to the Green Build Expo. Organized by the U.S. Green Building Council, the expo brought professionals, practitioners, students, teachers together in November at the Boston Convention and Exposition Center.

The Prep students and teachers fanned out across the giant expo center to cover as much ground and take in as much information as possible, according to Mr. Gary Smith, Science Department Chair, who led the Prep contingent's visit to the expo with fellow science teacher Ms. Kristine Erwin.

Many of the exhibits of that caught the imagination of the group came from the world of net-zero energy. A good-sized portion of the exhibit hall was powered by renewable energy that was set up on-site, said Mr. Smith. Among the providers was Charge Point in Porter Square, Cambridge, which set up a charging station, and Cambridge EnerTech, which demonstrated state-of-the-art battery storage. "That's the missing link between solar, wind and 24x7 power," said Mr. Smith.

Technologies being developed to meet the demand for clean water also caught the attention of students. "Access to clean and plentiful water is one of the biggest challenges facing communities in the U.S. and around the world face," said Mr. Smith. "Climate change means larger extremes of dry and wet, and these technologies offer a straightforward way of meeting the demands of cities and homes for this most important resource. Companies like Orenco and Rainwater Management have technologies that can trap and clean water that is usually thrown away. Many car washes use technology like this, but American cities are increasingly interested in saving water so that it can be used more than once. Invisible Structures makes several products that can turn a water-shedding parking lot into a water-trapping space, and they can do it on a large scale."

After immersing themselves in this exciting world of new ideas and new technologies, students came back to campus eager to try some of their own initiatives—from wind turbines to green walls and even a tiny home conversion van, according to Mr. Smith. "All of us got more ideas for how we could improve recycling, composting, or the natural beauty of campus. It was pretty inspiring!"

When Mr. Smith asked students to talk about their favorite parts of the expo, they had a lot to say.

Robby Huang '18: The company C6XTY introduces an ingenious way of deploying nature's own geometry to create materials and structures that are both strong and lightweight. The inventor, Sam Lanahan, talked about how he spent ten years to work on this structure. Because the structure of a C-60 molecule has a unique geometry that is inherently stable, the building structure can be well suited for carrying loads in compression much like a ball bearing. Depending on the problems that people are facing in real life, the structure can be manufactured at any scale. The wide range potential applications are from as small as a catalytic converter with much more surface area to as big as a permeable and self-draining bridge/roadway.

Mitchell Robson '20: In attending the USGBC, I was able to discover and learn about companies at the forefront of cutting-edge technology in all sorts of fields, ranging from heliotropic solar panels to water-efficient toilets. However, the company that was most intriguing to me was Suffolk Construction. By using preexisting SteamVR virtual reality technology, they were able to fuse that with their architectural field to create a truly innovative piece of software. The software allows a headset-wearing user to virtually "walk" around a house or other building that has been three-dimensionally rendered through this software's conversion of architectural files into a tangible, 3D model that can be viewed virtually. Other features included a "wand" tracked through mounted infrared sensors that the user points at different surfaces within the house, which can then be changed to different desirable colors or designs. Perhaps what I found most captivating about this innovation was not only in how it elegantly used existing technology and applied it to the field of construction, but also in how it solves a major problem. Instead of having to physically refurbish a building to cater to the client's requests, which can be a costly and time-consuming process, the architect could instead just update the architectural file and show the new design via virtual reality to the user. All in all, while the design of the software is not too complex or high-level, I still find some of the things we can do in virtual reality to be incredible.

Jack Maguire '19: Windover Construction is using virtual reality headsets to show their clients what will be built and where. It allows them to not worry about a client second-guessing a purchase or design option because they can see it in person and therefore make a more informed decision. This saves money and supplies because they make less design errors being able to double check work. (Note: the Windover staff was especially fun to be with, as they recognized the Prep logos on some of the students' clothes. Windover designed and built the Brother Keefe, C.F.X. Academic Center and the Wellness Center.)

Arty Ivanenko '19: One of the companies that interested me at the Greenbuild Expo was ParexUSA. They specialize in what I like to refer to as the next generation of bricks, which they call ComfortBlock. At the event, they appealed to me by describing their blocks as Lego-like. The bricks, apart from being lighter weight compared to other bricks of a similar size, are fire and mould resistant. The blocks are attached by a special adhesive which is supposedly five times than traditional mortar, while also being five times faster to work with over traditional brick and mortar. They also have an inside architecture that allows for easy routing of insulation and wiring, each of which get their own channel separated by a thin wall. From both the outside and the inside, these blocks look like normal concrete, and ParexUSA offer multiple textures for the exterior wall, meaning you do not have to sacrifice style for efficiency. Although they were not the largest or most impressive companies at the Greenbuild Expo, this simple change could mean large energy savings for suburban homes in the near future.