A house made out of straw designed by UNSW students involved in a Student-led Project made the top 40 in the US Department of Energy Race to Zero Student Design Competition.Luis Fernando Garcia Ojeda and Tilket Feyesa

This is the first time an Australian student group has presented at the prestigious competition in Golden, Colorado, which took place in late April.

The students involved with this project were Omar Barrueta-Gallardo, Tilket Feyesa, Luis Fernando Garcia Ojeda, Bolortsom Ulziijargal with assistance from academic Dr Jessie Copper.

The students, whose pooled knowledge came from disciplines such as Photovoltaics and Solar Energy, Sustainable Built Environment, Material Science and Renewable Energy Engineering, tackled a brief calling for house designs that were cost-effective, market-ready and achieving a zero-energy balance.

In other words, the buildings were to be so energy-efficient that renewable power would offset most or all the annual energy consumption.

Team leader Omar Barrueta-Gallardo said the group’s house for submission, titled Elouera, was based on designs in the NSW Ingleside Precinct Project, which aims to develop a highly sustainable community in North Sydney.

I encourage students to get involved in this Student-led Project since it gives them a glance at the zero-energy building design process

“Our design incorporates sustainable features such as passive design, rainwater harvesting, photovoltaic and solar thermal collectors, and low-embodied energy construction materials,” he said.

“The design targets families with environmental concerns who lean towards long-term benefits provided by a highly efficient and thoughtfully designed building.”

He added that the UNSW designs were the first in the competition’s five-year history to incorporate natural construction materials, which is essential to reach a low embodied energy design.

“The envelope of the Elouera house was designed with straw bale, a material that does not require energy-intensive processes for its production and has remarkable thermal performance properties that provide inhabitants comfort in summer and winter seasons.”

The design also incorporated thermal mass features, Barrueta-Gallardo said, such as the living room floor, where fly-ash, a by-product of coal production, was mixed with recycled aggregates in the concrete composite.Omar Barrueta-Gallardo, UNSW Race to Zero Team Leader

“This floor stores the heat that it receives from sunlight during the day, and releases it slowly at night,” Barrueta-Gallardo said.

While the group may have missed out on a top three finish, it was nevertheless praised for its use of natural materials.

“The jury commends the natural design principles, the overall architecture design and there is innovation with the straw bale system,” the judges wrote.

For his part, Barrueta-Gallardo said the experience was an invaluable one.

“I encourage students to get involved in this Student-led Project since it gives them a glance at the zero-energy building design process,” he said.

“Sooner or later, the construction sector worldwide will demand professionals with skills in building-science and sustainable design. Don't let this opportunity pass you by!”

If you would like to learn more about Race to Zero or how to be a part of other Student-led Projects at UNSW, please contact Stephanie Bagnell, Student-Led Projects Officer in the Faculty of Engineering at engprojects@unsw.edu.au

Written by: Lachlan Gilbert