American University of Beirut

Comfort, Health, and Productivity in Built-in and Outdoor Environments

​​Global warming and its implications on the climate are believed to highly affect the Gulf and MENA region. Heating needs are expected to diminish while cooling, dehumidification, and ventilation needs will amplify due to warmer climate and increased air pollution. In our region, more days with humid hot weather close to coastal areas and more acute desert climate will be observed leading to increased energy use in buildings. Alternative and innovative solutions are needed to mitigate and adapt to the modern-day and future challenge of global warming with focus on human health, thermal comfort, and productivity in the living environment indoor and outdoor. Buildings standards and systems are already being adapted to high ambient in GCC countries with major investment on this topic from UNEP and ASHRAE. 

We initially focused on modeling heat and moisture transport from a clothed active human to recommend clothing ensembles with characteristics that alleviate thermal stress in hot and humid climates. This included integration of human thermal response with building air-conditioning system and building envelope material to improve building energy performance. At a later stage we worked on indoor air quality and contaminant transport to reduce cross contamination between occupants in office buildings. Methods for reducing disease transmission in enclosed spaces were investigated by using upper room UV irradiation systems and recommended minimum safe seating distance between healthy and infected occupants in offices. The work progressed to consider human personalized cooling and ventilation devices indoor and outdoor for improved comfort and productivity. 

The usefulness of the different personalized ventilation devices is assessed and optimized using predictive models in relation to their impact on thermal comfort, air quality and particle dispersion, deposition, and resuspension in different adopted air conditioning systems. Although particle deposition has been studied extensively, but particle resuspension in presence of personalized ventilation (PV) devices needs to be modeled and predicted since it does affect air quality and occupant inhalation exposure particle resuspension. Particle resuspension requires in-depth understanding of surface materials that may contribute to increasing adhesive forces between the surface and particle thus decreasing the chances of resuspension occurrence. Operational features and power sources for the PV need to be investigated to improve its energy performance and its utilization through reduction of power needed for its operation. 

The increase in business trading in public outdoor spaces such as plazas, commercial streets, and touristic parks resulted in the concept of “bioclimatic planning” to identify environmental factors that would result in an increase of both the usage of outdoor spaces and the period of use for the different human activities. Urbanization can have significant effects on local weather and climate resulting in making the air warmer than the surrounding rural areas. We have used predictive tools for outdoor microclimate at the pedestrian level to study interventions effectiveness in mitigating heat island effect and hence improve outdoor comfort. The robustness of the predictive tools for the urban microclimate is being improved to use in the evaluation of mitigation measures on the local climate on the human personal comfort state.

Mitigation Measures of Urban Heat Island include interventions in building materials, cooling systems, and infrastructure. These include consideration of  building material to reduce heat storage; building configurations (height to spacing); increasing outdoor local wind speed; evaporative cooling systems for reducing outdoor surface temperature; extraction of heat from pavement; efficient air conditioning system reducing heat release.  Other interventions can target the human using personal cooling methods such cooling vests that incorporate phase change material or other novel smart clothing systems.

The new directive in the research on human comfort has shown that the study of human behavior is very important for coming up with personalized cooling methods that the human, whether young or old, is ready to accept and use. It also shows that energy efficient practices in building can be improved when systems used are responsive to human behavior and choices. Research also aims to study the effect of occupant privilege in controlling own microclimate in non-uniform and during transient on thermal comfort and productivity. This requires better understanding of human behavior with extensive field studies on human subjects.

Research aim is to conduct interdisciplinary research to develop and market technologies that would improve the human productivity and health in built-in and bioclimatic conditions at a minimal energy use. The research work unique in the Region for working towards meeting the needs of the region and addresses issues of human comfort, health, and productivity linked to climate, building material, architectural practices, local clothing choices, and culture. 

We use quantitative and innovative research approach that focuses on the human and in its capacities that were developed over the years. These capacities are supported by active graduate and PhD programs in various engineering disciplines including as well specialized master degree in applied energy.  Some of the research findings and capacities are already being disseminated through the offering of an online post graduate courses in green technologies.

Funding and Facilities: 
In the past 5 years the cluster attracted significant external research funding that amounted to 2.6 Million USD with collaborators from Lebanese National Council for Scientific Research,  ASHRAE, Qatar Foundation ($766,000), Kuwait Foundation from Advancement of Science (KFAS), ESCWA ($129,000), Kuwait University, Somfy (industry), EU (ERA-NETMED with total funding of Euro 566,000), and Swedish Research Council. The actual research expenditure at AUB coordinating the research grants with partners over the past 5 year was close to $800,000. The projects involved partners from AUB and internationally including Lund University, Qatar University, Ecole de Mine, Polytechnic de Torino, and Kuwait University. Collaborators within AUB included faculty members from various disciplines and Faculties. Over the past decade, we developed state-of-the-art facilities to perform relevant experimentation which includes five climatic chambers for testing different systems, two of which are outdoor chambers. In addition, we have a thermal breathing manikin that enabled us to study clothing, comfort, ventilation, and air quality in breathing zone and validate basically many of the developed models and predictive tools of impact of air distribution system on comfort and particle and bacteria transport. We have also software tools that are developed locally as well as commercial CFD software. We have developed capacity for conduct of human subject tests for comfort and productivity in controlled environment.


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