New professor at the Construction Engineering Department

Katherine D'Avignon: energy efficiency and thermal energy storage

Monday, January 29, 2018

Energy efficiency and thermal energy storage

Katherine D’Avignon is interested in the energy efficiency of buildings. Her passion is thermal energy storage. Indeed, it was the subject of her doctoral thesis, at Polytechnique Montréal, titled “Modeling and experimental validation of the performance of phase change material storage tanks in buildings.”

A newcomer to ÉTS, she joins the Construction Engineering Department as a research professor, bringing to the position an exemplary academic record and various professional experiences as a building engineering consultant, research associate, research supervisor and lecturer.

Until quite recently, Ms. D’Avignon was a Horizon Postdoctoral Fellow at Concordia University's Centre for Zero Energy Building Studies, where her research focused on improving city energy resilience (buildings and infrastructures) through the use of solar systems and thermal storage. She also contributed to projects involving the application of building technologies such as solar power and geothermal energy to road infrastructure to create autonomous rest areas and solar bridges, as well as to enable salt-free de-icing of roads.

Focus on a building's operational phase

Professor D'Avignon is interested in the operation of buildings to improve energy efficiency. In her view, current construction practices create an unfavourable division between a building's design phase and its operational phase. However, one should not expect that a building will remain unchanged over its useful life. So, while it is clearly important to optimise building performance at the design stage, it is also necessary to consider from the outset how its different systems will really be operated so as to avoid long-term deviations from the design that ultimately diminish the building's energy performance. Hence the need, in her estimation, for modeling the behaviour of a building's different energy systems.

Katherine D’Avignon is also interested in the integration of renewable energy sources and thermal storage systems. “A thermal storage system can be thought of as a type of battery that, rather than storing electrical charge, stores up heat and cold for later use,” she explains. Heat can be stored through a number of ways, including the use of geothermal boreholes, phase change materials, or even simple water tanks. Ms. D’Avignon's doctoral work focused on the use of phase change of materials, and she is now studying the possibility of combining various thermal storage technologies to best adapt to any given building and  reduce its energy usage.

A thermal storage success story: the Drake Landing Solar Community

As an example of a successful use of thermal energy storage, she points to the Drake Landing Solar Community, in Okotoks, Alberta. Different technologies were successfully integrated to improve the community's energy efficiency and maximize the use of a renewable and unlimited energy source: the sun. The system is designed to store solar power during the summer months and later distribute it to buildings over the winter months, meeting over 90% of the community's energy needs in the process.

Achieving energy efficiency for the Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine Tunnel

Professor D'Avignon still has ties with Concordia's Centre for Zero Energy Building Studies. She is currently involved in a major project for which researchers were called upon to give their assessment of the best technologies to integrate into the Lafontaine Tunnel to improve its energy efficiency. The project requires that all systems be taken into account, particularly the electrical power supply, heating, ventilation, lighting, drainage and computer systems.

Ms. D'Avignon is keen about the possibilities of geothermal technology for applications such as road de-icing, a practice that has already been successfully implemented in Iceland and Norway. For the time being, certain gaps regarding precipitation data in Canada pose an obstacle for such an initiative, but she intends to do research in this area.

Katherine D’Avignon will teach within the Construction Engineering department's “Building” specialization and hopes to one day create a course on thermal storage or on building operations. In the meantime, she has plenty of ideas for projects and will soon be looking for Master's or Doctorate students with an interest in building mechanics, energy efficiency, thermal energy storage, and the modeling of building energy systems.

In addition to enthusiasm and passion for her work, Professor D’Avignon brings to ÉTS her tremendous drive and leadership. An invaluable gain for all of us!

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