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from Dr. Eusébio Conceição

Every year, a kindergarten in Olhão used to be ravaged by flu and colds. Today, the children are healthier and do their activities in airier rooms with improved air quality. It doesn’t involve any magic, improvisation or divine intervention; but is rather the fruit of a scientific study and the application of such simple measures as strategically opening some windows and, in the future, planting trees and constructing strategically located shade structures.

Owing to this problem, the University of Algarve (UAlg) was asked to produce a scientific study of the thermal component and the quality of the air in the kindergarten. The team from the Faculty of Science and Technology started by studying virtual solutions developed numerically by computer, and experimental trials were later carried out. For this, some innovative tools developed by the team were used, such as the use of virtual buildings, the simulation of virtual airflow and the use of virtual mannequins.

A centre for innovation
Located at the Gambelas campus in Faro, the Faculty of Science and Technology is a vibrant hub of technology and innovation, where highly regarded projects are running with international support and funding. One of the most important is software which enables the conditions of heating, ventilation and air-conditioning in a virtually occupied space to be analysed three-dimensionally, with the aim of ensuring acceptable levels of thermal comfort and air quality, in return for low levels of energy consumption. In other words, the software studies how a space can be heated/cooled so that the occupants are comfortable with the temperature and air quality with the lowest possible use of energy. This tool has already been used in a simulation of the buildings at UAlg and it was also used in the kindergarten, leading to a project that has been published internationally (1).

Solutions in nature
In addition to questions connected with insulation and construction materials, part of the solution for the kindergarten was found in simple, everyday aspects. The identification of blocks of windows which should only be opened at specific times of the year or in specific atmospheric conditions enabled the air quality and the comfort level in the space to be significantly modified. Planting fast growing trees will ensure that, within a few years, part of the building will be covered during the periods of greatest heat by a more refreshing kind of shade. The positioning of the same trees protects the building during the hottest time of day, reducing the building’s energy consumption, and keeping the indoor areas at an appropriate temperature. By combining innovative scientific tools with simple natural solutions, conditions will be created in which those using the kindergarten feel comfortable.

In forthcoming editions of ECO123, UAlg will be presenting an analysis of insulating materials produced from left-over pieces of cork.

(1) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360132311003623

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