DES 40A / WQ 18
Prof Cogdell / Sec 4
The Baggins End Domes: Raw Materials
The Baggins End Domes, which are nestled on the west side of the campus of the University of California, Davis, are a sustainable cooperative living community which focuses on social, economic, and environmental justice. Colloquially referred to as the “Domes,” the structures are rounded igloo-style structures made from exterior fiberglass finishings and polyurethane interior insulation. These two raw materials are observed at each stage of the life cycle from extraction of raw materials, means of transportation, structural maintenance, embodied energy, and waste products. The life cycle of these basic building materials maintains the plan that the structures were only intended to be inhabited for a period of 10 years. Therefore, they are not a viable solution for long-term, environmentally friendly UC Davis student housing facilities without constant retrofit procedures that involve more potentially environmentally devastating consequences.
The acquisition and production of the polyurethane and fiberglass used to construct the Domes, involves the chemical properties of the materials as well as the manufacturing, transportation, and shaping of the outermost structure of the Domes. Polyurethane, which is defined as, “synthetic resin in which the polymer units are linked by urethane groups, used chiefly as constituents of paints, varnishes, adhesives, and foams.” In contrast to most synthetic plastics, polyurethane is made directly into the final product, without initial processing into a sub-product, such as granules, sands, or films. This property of polyurethane ensures that it can have many different applications, from cushioning to building panels to electrical insulation. In order to make a specific moulded polyurethane object, two components, polyisocyanate and polyol are mixed in liquid form to form a solid product. Depending on the conditions of the chemicals and the added use of catalysts, the reaction can take only several minutes. Eventually, it obtains a gel-like covering which works as a sufficient adhesive. It is ideal for building and construction.
Much like polyurethane, the creation fiberglass is a multi-step chemical process, but it is most simply fiber and resin in the form of a fiber-reinforced glass material. The process of manufacturing fiberglass is called pultrusion. In the process, an industrial furnace melts naturally mined resources including silica, limestone, dolomite, kaolin clay, and other rare minerals. They are then bundled and coated in a chemical solution and formed into a chopped strand mat as a form of reinforcement. Consequently, it can be easily used in construction thanks to its newfound chemically and physically enhanced properties, such as rigidity and resistance to buckling.
The primary ecological concern with these materials is the extraction of natural resources. It is an example of the tragedy of the commons, in which a natural resource is consumed at a rate far higher than that of which it takes to replace it. This is the replacement time of a material, which may range from years to decades to thousands of years. For precious minerals such as limestone and silica used in the processing of polyurethane and fiberglass, some of the most common construction materials, humans have devastated the natural environment in search of mineral deposits. Practices such as subsurface mining involve digging tunnels horizontally and vertically under the earth, disrupting the natural deposits and the local environment. The Domes do not endorse the practice of intentional environmental destruction, but rather oppose it vehemently. Their usage of the materials involved does not correlate to endorsement, but it must be considered in determination of future building plans and materials involved in retrofit procedures. This extraction and manufacturing process are efficient in terms of creation as they can be simple and quick, but not in terms of overall sustainability and maintenance of the local natural environments.
The distribution and transportation of the fiberglass and polyurethane used to build the Domes is another contributor to energy consumption, as it requires excessive amounts of fossil fuels and natural gases to move the materials in bulk to where they are needed. After examination of the polyurethane industry, it is possible to see the damaging environmental effects of its transportation to be used in construction of structures such as the Domes. The independent company, American Chemistry Council, releases reports on the safety, management, and consequences of the transportation of polyurethane, since it is a $73 billion industry in the United States. Safety guidelines keep handlers safe from toxic chemicals involved in transportation. Since factories that produce polyurethane require large equipment to store, meter, mix, heat, and dispense the ingredients, and because the chemicals can be hazardous to human health, production is stationed far from urban areas where construction occurs. This is also true for production of fiberglass, which involves toxic extractions that are chemically harmful. Since production is kept at a distance from human activity, it takes many miles traveled and excessive gallons of fuel to take the raw materials from their natural resources, to a remote processing location, and then finally to where they will be implemented. In this case, the primary issue is the consumption of fossil fuels by transportation services used in the production process, where the use of local materials at specific intervals could be more efficient and environmentally sustainable.
After implementation of the raw materials, their efficiency in terms of embodied energy while in use must be assessed. Since the Domes were built as sustainable living spaces, the materials they chose aimed to have low net energy levels. However, only the use of the materials ensures low energy impacts, while the manufacturing and recycling at the beginning and the end of the life cycle have higher energy impacts. Polyurethane, although it takes energy inefficient fuels to power the production, have a low impact because they reduce the weight of items they make up, such as transportation vehicles and household appliances. It also functions well as a form of insulation, such as it is used in the Domes. However, there is only a finite amount of energy for their production, which is why constant retrofits to the Domes are necessary.
Fiberglass, on the other hand, boasts extremely low levels of net embodied energy. This is because of several reasons: firstly, they typically do not require additional materials in their implementation, especially as windows. They also do not warp or degrade as easily, which makes them more economical in the long run. It holds its shape, which means that it is not affected by air infiltration. These properties make it a preferred material for sustainable construction. However, the cons include less resistance to heat, it breaks and cracks is bent too much, it is affected by moisture, and it tends to settle and sag. This is because it is strongly affected by external conditions, so that is the factor that determines its effectiveness. In consideration of the Domes, it is a useful material because Davis, California has a temperate climate, with only seasonal fluctuations in climate and weather. This allows time for the structures to be updated in seasons when the weather conditions are not as harsh. Yet in other places, fiberglass is still not widely used because of its lack of resistance to external conditions, which is highly important in constructing an exterior structure.
The topic of reuse and maintenance is especially important to the subject of the Domes in respect to the raw materials, as they have lasted far beyond the years they were intended to but require maintenance and retrofits to maintain their viability. The retrofits necessary to upkeep the Baggins End Domes involve similar materials, such as synthetic plastics, as are used in the primary construction process. However, the retrofits include fixes to electrical insulation, exterior damage as caused by the rain, and interior insulation. It can be conceded that certain materials will last to keep the basic structure of the Dome intact, such as the fiberglass shaping of the igloo.
When the Baggins End Domes have reached the end of their lives, the synthetic plastics can be recycled, but not without a net loss of energy. This is because they were built for a specific time frame, in contrast to other housing facilities which are built to last decades. Waste products from the construction of the Domes, as well as the constant use and upgrades, determines the environmental impact of the raw materials at the end of the life cycle. The standard process for recycling polyurethane is to simply reuse the material in its original physical form in interior manufacturing, such as cushioning for carpet underlay or as parts in the automotive industry. This means that the raw materials could potentially be used for retrofit purposes in interior spaces of the Domes. This is done through mechanical recycling which, after use, physically changes the properties of the material. This includes regrinding or powdering, adhesive pressing or particle bonding, and compression molding. Polyurethane can also be chemically recycled. This changes the chemical composition of the raw materials through glycolysis, hydrolysis, pyrolysis, or hydrogenation. These specific pathways attempt to retain or recover the inherent value in plastics, which is successful if done in a sustainable and non-hazardous manner.
Fiberglass, on the other hand, is not easily recyclable. It is refused at most recycling centers and it cannot be picked up at the curb. However, the fiberglass itself can be made of recycled materials, by its use of recycled glass mixed in with its primary component of silica in the process of manufacturing. Additionally, fiberglass is known for its low levels of embodied energy. In consideration of these factors, fiberglass may be difficult or nearly impossible to recycle, but its environmentally friendly impacts while it is in use outweigh its post-consumer drawbacks.
Even though we can easily observe the standard process for repurposing the raw materials, the recycling process will likely be altered as determined by how the structures are demolished once their life cycle is over. It is possible to opt for a more local and environmentally friendly type of recycling, yet that is to be determined because the structures still stand today. In this case, the most viable option is reuse and repurposing, or upcycling the materials to divert them from the landfill.
All considered, the chemicals, processes, materials, and transportation involved in the production of the raw materials used to construct the Baggins End Domes provides an example of how effective the structures, with their reputation as sustainable housing, would function as a larger scale housing facility for the increasing number of students. The basic raw materials used are found in the earth as mineral deposits, which are mined and excavated. These then undergo several unique chemical processes to produce reasonably durable construction materials, such as polyurethane and fiberglass. The Domes’ outer structures consist of mostly these two products, which are made in remote areas to prevent toxic harm to humans. However, this happens at the detriment of the local environment and the transportation costs and consumption of fossil fuels to get the materials to where they need to be are far more than what is considered sustainable. As these steps of the life cycle gain more visibility, it is easier to choose materials with lesser impacts on the natural world as well as those who inhabit it. The modern age is plagued with a lack of knowledge about where our products and belongings come from. A life cycle analysis makes this more transparent so that our choices reflect our values and commitments.
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2.) Brown, Patricia Leigh. “A Counterculture Spirit Flourishes, Preserved Under Fiberglass Domes.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 20 Jan. 2015, www.nytimes.com/2015/01/21/us/domes-at-uc-davis-counterculture-spirit-thrives.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=second-column-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news.
3.) Davis, UC. “Domes Energy Retrofit.” Program for International Energy Technologies, Feb. 2018, piet.ucdavis.edu/piet-initiatives/pire/domes-zne/.
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15 March 2018
Davis Domes Embodied Energy
The Davis Domes intentions were never meant to last forever but for some reason, these domes, lifespan of what was to be only a decade had continued over five decades. The benefits of the amount of embodied energy that is being saved by the Davis Domes are helpful, but the process of making the domes have consequences. Such as the domes need fixing over time yet the input in these domes have a rewarding output of embodied energy. Thermal energy, mechanical energy, kinetic energy, and chemical energy are in use to fully construct the path life cycle of the Davis Baggins End Domes. So for what it takes to construct a dome, is it the best replacement for future UC Davis student housing for its zero net energy and cheap expense compared to today’s larger and modern student housing such as Segundo, Tercero, and Cuarto communities.
The Davis Domes are a housing structure community built by and for students who wanted to live in a net zero energy and a less expensive student housing community during the 1960s but did not open until 1972. At the beginning of the Davis Dome life cycle requires the collection of raw materials where mechanical and kinetic energy is in use. The raw materials that were needed for the domes are polyurethane foam and fiberglass which are both energy efficient. Polyurethane is made out of diisocyanates building blocks which are most products we use today in refrigerators, shoes, chairs, mattresses, and etc... Using chemical energy diisocyanates are mixed and reacts with other chemicals such as polymeric isocyanate to create polyurethane. As these chemicals reaction with each other the outcome of the physical properties of polyurethane are used for insulation, durability, protection, weather resistance, and flexibility which are used to conserve energy and to keep heat in building structures. This material processed when insulated into the domes’ the walls helps keep in the warmth of the building structure as stated by the EPA, “the U.S Environmental Protection Agency estimates that homeowners who air seal and insulate their homes can save up to 20 percent of heating and cooling costs,” (Polyurethane). In which the polyurethane and fiberglass material reduces energy wasting by reducing heat and cooling lost. The polyurethane foam that lies in between the domes’ walls contains low-conductivity gas in its cells which is energy efficient in not needing to our cooling and heating equipment by 35% where I also reduce electricity usage. For fiberglass, it is made out of reinforced plastic that uses mechanical energy to flatten the fiber into a plastic sheet or either woven into a piece of fabric like plastic. The outcome of properties of the fiberglass is used for mechanical strength, thermal conductivity, dimensional stability, and non-rotting.
During the development of the dome kinetic, mechanical, and thermal energy was in the manufacturing process of construction. Before anything to make a dome it needs a layout where mechanical and kinetic energy is used to make. The layout is made out of a right mixture of sand and water to form clay to shape the dome for the top part. Then the mechanical use is using a wooden pole hanging above the pile of sand where kinetic energy will move the wooden pole and place in the wet sand to create the right shape and in measurements for the dome. After the shaping of the layout is dome then molding the dome with the fiberglass materials will be made using the design. It took thermal or known as heat energy in shaping the dome half-sphere. The use of the fiberglass and polyurethane materials is that the “fiberglass insulation is an easy, cost-effective method to help conserve energy and improve acoustical performance in residential and commercial new construction,” (IDI). As an easy insulation material there are not large amounts of energy such as kinetic energy being used up to set the construction. Later including thermal energy to mold the materials of the dome together. An example for transportation, from a company IDI, an insulation distribution company, manufactures fiberglass and polyurethane transports from Florida in large trucks. What those trucks use for transportation or energy to run is diesel which produces large amounts of carbon dioxide. Where the carbon dioxide is thermal energy that heats up the Earth’s atmosphere. Energy usage wise the Baggins End domes do not require the amount of energy that recent UC Davis larger student housing requires in electricity, heating, and cooling equipment. So, even though the domes may have a positive outcome the process of manufacturing and transporting the structures have negative impacts on the environment.
The output of the saving energy in electricity forms in the long term. Polyurethane foam after its life in the walls of the building structure it can be placed into recycling as in, “90 percent of the flooring underlay market is rebond. Today, the market for “virgin” flooring underlay made from polyurethane foam is actually quite small due to the improved value and increased sustainability of rebond” (Polyurethane). Another of energy reduction with the polyurethane scraps is that a company estimated, “for each ton of coal displaced by polyurethane scrap, there is a reduction of more than eight pounds of harmful sulfur dioxide emissions,” (Polyurethane). In comparison with coal, polyurethane used to be burn after its lifespan has the ability in decreasing air quality pollution. The amount of recycled materials is not a large number, but it's an improvement for recycling and minimizing the chemicals in the air. When recycling polyurethane foam, it can be used as an alternative coal factoring for burning and can be applied to cement or power. But polyurethane foam is burned and is reduced by 99% in volume to reduce space build up and provides more heat than coal. Unfortunately, with the amount of resources coal, is more accessible than polyurethane foam is out there, so the use of coal continues. Not only just polyurethane but also other plastics are, “recovering enough energy to power homes in five states or the equivalent of 28.6 billion barrels of crude oil,” (Polyurethane). With the addition of helping energy recovering in technology to work better. The whole deal with recycling polyurethane leading in different recycling process separated into two groups. Group one is mechanical recycling where the recycled foam is “rebond” in making carpet underlying, sports mats, cushioning, and other products in similarity. Group two is chemical recycling is by four different methods all called glycolysis, hydrolysis, pyrolysis, and hydrogenation. Glycolysis is a process of using thermal energy of high heat energy to create a chemical reaction to make new polyurethane. Hydrolysis is the process of chemical energy using water and other chemicals to be used as a fuel for polyurethane from polyols. Pyrolysis is another chemical energy process that breaks down polyurethane to create gas and oils under oxygen. Finally, hydrogenation relates to pyrolysis recycling but through thermal, kinetic energy, and chemical energy using hydrogen. After for what is used to recycle the rest of the materials goes through waste management since there is no use of energy for the materials. Over time the domes begin to lose strength, and the amount of repairments is not enough and for what is not recycled is thrown out. At the end the Davis Domes in the Baggins End community needed repairs on the foam walls and where only patched in and repainted, so the expense of managing a dome takes time even if outcomes of recycling is beneficial of a domes afterlife.
Is the outcome of the output energy worth the process of the input of the Davis Domes? Unfortunately, the Davis Domes community to increase and continue as a future sustainable student housing will be unlikely because even though the materials used in creating the domes may be energy efficient, the domes yet need repairs too quickly. The whole process of applying kinetic, mechanical, thermal, and chemical energy has its rewards in creating sustainable fiberglass and polyurethane foam that can be recycled for making other products and used as an alternative fuel but its costly. Unfortunately, there was no information in the amount of energy used only the type of energy. To continue with such large projects is beneficial environmentally, but financially its unstable due to the domes needing repairs since these Davis Domes were intentionally built to only last a decade at the time when the domes opened in 1972. So, as a larger project to hold more UC Davis student in these domes for student housing is not a suitable ideas to led onto for the future due to the difficult care and handling of the dome itself even though the structure compared to recent student housing uses less energy for input and output.
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DES 40A A04
March 15, 2018
Davis Domes Waste
Because the Davis Domes are a cooperative housing community located on the Sustainable Research Area of UC Davis, one would be led to believe that they are sustainable. On the Domes’ Baggins End website, the vision statement perpetuates this idea by stating:
Living practices include organic agriculture and permaculture, low-impact construction, energy efficiency, alternative forms of waste management and the general reduction of our ecological footprint, which allows us to meet our needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.
But while the Domes’ inhabitants may aim to live an environmentally-conscious lifestyle, the “low-impact construction” may not be so. The Domes’ shell was intended to be retrofitted every five years (Cary). Instead, the Domes endured 39 years before being retrofitted, which led to the delamination of the polyurethane-insulated fiberglass shell, as well as rot inside the polyurethane foam (Cary, Edwards). While the recycling of building materials would indeed be low-impact, rotten foam cannot be recycled, meaning that the foam must either be dumped in a landfill or incinerated. Doing so causes pollutants in the land, air, and water. Thus, recycling would be the best option for sustainability, which can only be done if the Domes’ shells are disposed of before decaying.
Though the cost of the 2011 renovations were not released, it was estimated that renovation would total $602,000 (Cary). The Domes were originally going to close due to the repair costs being too high, however more than 3,000 people wrote letters to oppose the Domes’ destruction (Edwards). As a result, the Domes stayed open, and retrofits were constructed. What was done with the old polyurethane-insulated fiberglass shells was not released as well, but because the shells were heavily damaged and decaying, they were more than likely not recycled.
To comprehend the impact of the Davis Domes, one must analyze the lifecycle. Because the shell is what needs to be constantly replaced, only the shell will be investigated. The two components of the shell are polyurethane foam and fiberglass.
Polyurethane foam is made from liquid polymer reactions contained in large steel tanks that hold agitators to keep the materials in a fluid state. The reacting materials are then passed through a heat exchanger, which adjusts the temperature for a polymerization reaction. It is then sprayed on paper rolled out on a conveyor belt, creating the foam insulation (see Figure 1). Because the polyurethane is constructed in a factory powered by fossil fuels, many wastes are produced in manufacturing. From coal, the cheapest form of energy, carbon dioxide and methane emissions are released. In addition, mining coal disturbs land and alters the chemistry of water runoff, which affects the surrounding water quality (Coal). Along with coal, oil is used, which can spill into water or land (Oil). The gas can also evaporate, creating airborne fossil fuel combustion waste (EPA).
Fiberglass, the other component of the Domes’ shell is mined from granite, quartz, and minerals for silicate from sand deposits. The machines used to extract the silicate also produce fossil fuel combustion waste. Workers exposed to crystallized silica in the air are ten times more likely to experience autoimmune diseases than those not exposed (Watson).
Transportation also accounts for a portion of waste and pollutants. Fossil fuels are burned in powering all modes of transportation. Accidental spills can result during industrial truck shipments.
To reduce the environmental impact, the best option for both the polyurethane and fiberglass would be to recycle the materials. Like many other types of plastic, polyurethane can be mechanically or chemically recycled. Mechanical recycling consists of making rebonded flexible foam, regrind or powdering, adhesive pressing/particle bonding, or compression molding. Rebonded flexible foam consists of shreds of polyurethane, which is seen in carpet underlay. Regrind or powdering results in a fine powdering that can be mixed with virgin materials to generate new polyurethane foam or reaction injection molded parts, which form items such as car bumpers and electric housing panels. Adhesive pressing/particle bonding create foam boards analogous to wood particle board. Compression molding grinds reaction injection molded parts and applies high pressure to create a 100 percent recycled material (Polyurethanes).
Chemical recycling on the other hand relies upon glycolysis, hydrolysis, pyrolysis, or hydrogenation. Glycolysis combines post-consumer and mixed industrial polyurethanes with diols at a high temperature, creating new polyols, the raw material for polyurethane. Hydrolysis relies upon a reaction between polyurethane and water, which results in polyols and intermediate chemicals that can be used as fuel for the raw materials of polyurethane. Pyrolysis creates gas and oils under an oxygen free environment. And lastly hydrogenation creates gas and oils through a combination of heat, pressure, and hydrogen (Polyurethanes). The only forms of fiberglass recycling are grinding and pyrolysis. However, unlike polyurethane, which cannot be recycled when dirty or decayed, fiberglass does not need to have the impurities removed, as they can be removed from ash or solid by-product easily when pyrolyzed (Sponberg).
Both mechanical and chemical recycling of polyurethanes and fiberglass rely upon power tools that use electricity. Byproducts of electricity use includes ash, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxides, and sulphur dioxide (Bellman). However, recycling is still favorable to dumping in a landfill or incineration because the waste products occur in smaller amounts. When polyurethane enters a landfill, it can form plastic pile-up density due to the fact that it is difficult to decompose. While incineration can reduce polyurethane volume by 99%, incomplete combustion can result in poisonous gases which has badly polluted the atmosphere and thus is being phased out (Yang). Incineration of fiberglass results in large quantities of ash that goes to landfills. If not incinerated, fiberglass does not biodegrade. Evidence has shown that non-biodegradable waste seepage in landfills contaminate the soil and groundwater with organic compounds that are considered volatile (EPA).
Insufficient evidence has been found involving the maintenance of the Domes. It is uncertain what wastes are produced as a result of repairs in addition to what the repairs entail. Because of this, the argument of the sustainability of the Domes assumes that a retrofit is required with each major fault of the dome. Thus from a sustainability perspective, it is not feasible to be constantly retrofitting the Domes, when taking into account the $602,000 cost that accompanies it.
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