An award-winning solar light device developed at the Texas A&M Department of Architecture that can significantly reduce electric bills by delivering a bounty of natural sunlight deep into the interior of a building, will soon enter a new phase of development at the College of Architecture’s Digital Fabrication Facility.
The device, a solar light pipe, was judged as one of the top entries at the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2010 People, Prosperity and the Planet sustainability contest in Washington, D.C.
The pipe was developed by project co-principal investigator Liliana Beltran, associate professor of architecture, and a group of students and installed in a simulated office setting at the college’s Riverside Campus facility, also known as The Architecture Ranch.
Beltrán, who has been testing the light pipe, found that from 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. the pipe delivers at least 300 luxes — standard lighting for office tasks — 85 percent of the time.
With a $75,000 grant earned at the EPA contest, the light pipe is being refined and installed in another simulated office space at the Ranch; a structure 20’ x 30’ and 10 feet high that will sit on wheels so that Beltran and student researchers can rotate the experimental space to simulate locations at alternative angles from the sun.
The installation is being overseen by project co-principal investigator José Fernández-Solis, assistant professor of construction science, who directed a group of students that built the project's initial test room.
At the EPA competition, Texas A&M students used a model to demonstrate the light pipe to contest judges, but also used a live video feed from Riverside Campus project site.
“People like the system a lot, and they're asking us when it’s going to be available in their buildings,” said Beltrán. “Visitors at the EPA expo told us it was one of the best projects they saw.”
Utilizing an outdoor light collector, the apparatus, dubbed "Horizontal Hybrid Solar Light Pipe: An Integrated System of Daylight and Electric Light," funnels sunlight from the collector through a pipe of highly reflective material into a simulated office space that was initially frabricated within a rail car container.
"Sustainable innovations like the ones created by our EPA award winners are the environmental and economic future of our nation. In fields from agriculture to architecture to energy production, sustainability is the true north on the path ahead," said Paul T. Anastas, assistant administrator for the EPA's Office of Research and Development. "Innovations like these keep our country competitive and healthy.”