Research at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology

This spring I have the opportunity to be a visiting researcher at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag).  I arrived on February 1st, and will be here through June.  Eawag is a large research institute working on a wide range of water issues.  Much of the work is in the basic sciences and engineering, but there is also a small Environmental Social Sciences Department, with approximately 25 members, which is where I am housed.  This interdisciplinary department has a number of research clusters, and I am working with the Cirus team, Innovation Research for Utility Sectors.  The team is doing very interesting research on socio-technical innovation systems for sustainable urban water systems.   Research projects currently focus on urban water systems in Europe, Australia and China.

In addition to the interesting research being done at Eawag, which I will write more about later, particularly as it relates to my own research on technology transfer and innovation for climate change adaptation, the building itself is very interesting.  In this post, I will share with you a few of the interesting innovations regarding this building.

The building is designed to be very low energy, and uses four times less energy than a conventionally designed building.  As a result, it uses passive heating  and cooling (which means on very cold days, it is not particularly warm!).   Hot tea and sweaters are a common solution!  It is actually surprisingly comfortable most of the time though- between the heat from the sun, computers and body heat, the temperature is quite reasonable.  All lighting is high efficiency and the lights are on sensors to shut off when they are not being used.  There are large blue glass panels on the walls of the building that automatically rotate direction depending on sun and wind conditions in order to maximize the efficiency of the heating and cooling systems.  There is also a large glass-windowed atrium in the building to maximize the absorption of sunlight into the building.  The reinforced steel frame of the building is designed to store heat or cooling, and the clay and gypsum materials with which the interior walls are made help to regulate the humidity.

In addition to being low energy, the building is also low-water consuming.  One of the most interesting features are the toilets.  The toilets have a mechanism to separate the urine from the rinsing water and solids, allowing the urine to be stored in concentrated form (known as No-Mix Toilets, a technology developed at Eawag).  When you sit on the toilet, it closes the water valve, ensuring that only urine enters the pipes.  Also, the building collects rainwater from the roof, and uses this water for rinsing and flushing the toilet.  As a result, no drinking water is consumed by the toilets.

According to the Eawag website, the additional costs to build the building in this sustainable manner were only 4.7% of the construction costs, a price which will offer a rapid payback period due to cost savings in heating, cooling and water use.

Blue glass panels on the Eawag building that rotate to capture sunlight

The Eawag building in Dubendorf, Switzerland

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