Evaporative cooling of a bioreceptive concrete facade

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The urban heat island effect is a well-known and pressing problem in cities today related to urbanisation. It is the phenomenon of an increased ambient air temperature in cities compared to the surrounding rural areas. The use of nature-based solutions has been proposed as a way to help solve this problem. These interventions use nature and biodiversity to improve urban sustainability. By replacing materials that accumulate a lot of heat, the urban heat island effect is tackled. One way of doing this is by making use of so-called bioreceptive concrete on our facades, which allows for the biological growth of mosses to take place on the concrete substrate itself, without requiring any additional systems or maintenance.
This master thesis aimed to quantify the evaporative cooling effect of these moss-covered concrete facades on the urban environment. The research objective was to measure and model the amount of cooling resulting from the evapotranspiration of moss, by analysing water uptake and release, as well as the temperature decrease of a façade surface as a result of evaporation.
Laboratory experiments were conducted to examine the evaporation rates of various moss species under controlled ambient conditions. Bryum capillare displayed the highest water uptake, water retention, and drying time, with the ability to take up 32.4 g of water per 83 x 83 mm surface area. This is equivalent to 4703 g of water per square meter or 470 kg/m3 volumetric weight. Pleurocarpous mosses showed a range of 27 to 27.4 g of water uptake, corresponding to 3919 to 3977 g of water per square meter or 392 to 398 kg/m3. The concrete itself absorbed 21.1 g of water, which is equal to 3063 g of water per square meter or 204 kg/m3 for the 15 mm thick sample that was tested.
Evaporation rates were found to be higher immediately after a watering event, with variability observed between different moss species. Highest variability was 5.56 g/h for Eurhynchium striatum versus 1.86 g/h for Syntrichia ruralis. However, after a certain time, most mosses exhibited similar evaporation rates. The exception was Bryum capillare, which consistently maintained a higher evaporation rate. This moss, growing in cushion form, demonstrated enhanced drought avoidance due to a reduced surface-to-volume ratio and additional capillary spaces for water retention. The highest levels of evaporation were observed in all moss species under conditions of high temperature (25°C) and low relative humidity (50% RH).
Field testing involved monitoring the temperature of two bioreceptive concrete façade panels, one covered in moss and the other left bare. On sunny days, when panel temperatures exceeded 15 to 20 °C, and the panels were dry, the moss panel temperature was 0 to 5 °C lower compared to the bare concrete panel. This temperature difference was attributed to the lower albedo of the moss (0.07 – 0.11) compared to the concrete (0.10 – 0.40). The moss absorbs more solar radiation and prevents it from reaching the surface beneath it. Infrared camera measurements confirmed that the dry moss surface temperature was about 2 to 3 °C warmer than the concrete panel surface due to lower albedo of the moss. On rainy or cloudy days minimal temperature differences were observed between the panels. Additionally, the moss acts as an insulation layer, trapping the air between its leaves, keeping the material behind it cooler. The potential implications of this additional insulation layer on top of the facade remain to be investigated. Based on its specific heat capacity and heat conductivity, it could help with heat gain in winter and cooling gain in summer. It is hypothesised that moss has a lower thermal mass than concrete, potentially facilitating quicker heat dissipation at night and contributing to reduced building surface temperatures.
Watering the panels significantly reduced surface temperatures, with the moss panel being 2 to 5 °C cooler than the concrete panel when wet. The moss exhibited higher water absorption and longer water retention compared to the porous concrete, enabling more evaporation resulting in lower façade temperatures. This cooling effect persisted for approximately two and a half hours after a 40 ml watering event, equivalent to a 1 mm rain event at low wind speeds. These findings indicate that applying moss on a concrete facade cools the surface temperature of a façade compared to a bare concrete façade.
A non-stationary model based on the energy balance of the facade system was calibrated using field testing data. This model provides accurate temperature profiles under different weather conditions. Evaporation modelling was calibrated using water events but could be improved by implementing a water balance. By computing the irrigation, precipitation, evaporation, throughflow and runoff in a dynamic balance, the evaporation and temperature profiles would become more accurate.
The model is used to simulate a heat wave and the thermal behaviour of the façade after rain events with different intensities. A 1 mm rain event decreases the surface temperature of the façade with a few degrees but the effect does not last for a very long time. A 10 mm rain event decreases concrete surface temperature up to 10 °C initially, and the effect lasts for a few hours. The length and intensity of cooling can be extended through the application of moss on a façade. Then, for a 10 mm rain event, the initial temperature reduction is equal to 15 °C. To increase this effect, the pore volume of the concrete could be increased. Also, a moss species should be cultivated on the concrete which grows in cushion form, is desiccation tolerant, and has natural protection against UV light.
The thesis concludes that applying bioreceptive concrete on facades has the potential to mitigate the urban heat island effect by maintaining cooler temperatures for an extended time following rain events depending on their severity. This approach replaces materials that accumulate and radiate excessive heat. To quantify the effect of bioreceptive concrete as a mitigation strategy more accurately, a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) model could be made to predict the ambient temperature decrease of the air in front of a bioreceptive facade.
By investigating and quantifying the evaporative cooling effect of moss-covered concrete facades, this thesis contributes to the understanding of nature-based solutions. The findings highlight the potential benefits of incorporating bioreceptive concrete in building facades to mitigate the urban heat island effect and improve thermal comfort in urban areas.