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College teams build solar-powered homes on Mall

International competition showcases new energies

College teams build solar-powered homes on Mall
ENERGY EFFICIENT - Students from Penn State work on completing their house for the third annual Solar Decathlon on the National Mall Oct. 4. The entry, called MorningStar, is an 800-square-foot home powered by solar energy. The competition was held from O

From Oct. 12 to Oct. 20, the National Mall turned into what the neighborhoods of the future may look like.

The Department of Energy's third annual Solar Decathlon featured homes submitted by 20 universities from around the world.

Each 800-square foot home incorporated the latest technology trying to create the most energy-efficient homes. The teams of an average of 20 faculty, students and staff not only had to produce an energy-efficient and balanced home, but also had to have an attractive design, quality engineering and the ability to produce the standard comforts of living, such as useful and artistic lighting, heavy-duty appliances and an energy-efficient air conditioning system.

Judges rated how well each home did based on its architecture, construction and engineering to decide on the most attractive and energy efficient solar-powered home.

Judges presented Oct. 18 a trophy to Technische Universit?t Darmstadt in Germany as the winner of the Solar Decathlon.

University of Maryland, which won second place, was the school located closest to AU to participate in the event.

If AU had an engineering or architecture department, it would be possible for the school to send a team to compete, said Abby Wihl, a sophomore in the School of Communication who went to the decathlon.

"But we're not that advanced in math," she said. "We're not that specialized in those areas."

Students at AU can major in environmental studies, but there is not a great concentration on the sciences here, said David Smedick, vice president of Eco-Sense and a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences.

A couple years ago, classes on green technology were available to students, but they have not been offered since, according to Smedick.

"I think it'd be awesome if they had a specialized class or two or more focused on green technology," he said.

The 20 teams in the decathlon represented the 20 best proposals submitted to the Department of Energy. The requests for proposals for this year's competition began in October 2005 with a final submission deadline at the end of that year, according to the Solar Decathlon's Web site.

One school taking part in the event, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, submitted a proposal in December, based on the best of three housing designs from students in an architecture class during the fall 2005 semester, said Diana Husmann, a senior at MIT.

"I am awed by the other houses, and MIT," said Myriam Husmann, Diana's mother. "They did this in one year while everyone else had two or more years to prepare."

The MIT house used glass-like tiles containing water surrounded by insulation as part of the air conditioning system. Known as "aerogel" tiles, the water traps heat from the sun during the day and transmits the heat back into the house during the cooler night hours. Other features of their house included cabinetry made of sorghum, a by-product of the reed used to make molasses, and cabinets made from compressed recycled newspaper, also called paper stone.

The house would cost an estimated $250,000 to make, but it is only a rough estimate because the team received many donations for materials, Dian Husmann said. Labor was also not included in the cost of the homes because each team built its house.

Because of the various areas students had to take into account when creating the house, flexibility was important for her.

"I've been everything from a student to a product researcher to a tour guide," Husmann said. "[This competition] is about taking challenges given to you and running with it"

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