Alsaleem's team garners international attention for humidity sensing proposals

Alsaleem's team garners international attention for humidity sensing proposals

Calendar Icon Nov 16, 2016      Person Bust Icon By Karl Vogel     RSS Feed RSS

Fadi Alsaleem, assistant professor of architectural engineering
Fadi Alsaleem, assistant professor of architectural engineering

A pair of proposals for a new humidity sensing technology has garnered international attention for a team of engineers in the Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction.

This research could result in a multi-million dollar collaboration in creating a new product using MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) that could make HVAC climate control systems for all types of buildings more durable, efficient and cost-effective.

The electrostatic oscillator – designed by Fadi Alsaleem, assistant professor of architectural engineering in The Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction, and graduate student Mohammad H. Hassan – earned a JUMP award as one of two winning proposals in the Argonne National Laboratory and Clean Energy Trust challenge to identify an accurate and stable humidity sensor technology that promises improved performance over existing sensors.

A similar proposal from Alsaleem's team was also chosen as one of 10 finalists for the Lyncee Innovation Challenge 2016 for new applications of four-dimensional digital holography microscopy (DHM).

"Measuring humidity is important to the performance of the HVAC system over time," said Alsaleem. "Currently, that technology is limited. Most of the commercial humidity sensors used now act like sponges because they absorb and release water and they degrade over time."

The choice of silicon for making the sensors would make production much less expensive, Alsaleem said, and they would perform better because of the electrostatic oscillator technology.

Alsaleem said this tiny device responds to changes in the amount of water molecules in the air and those responses are correlated to humidity. That allows HVAC systems to more efficiently measure and control humidity levels in buildings, improve human comfort and air quality and hold down costs of operating and maintaining those systems.

The JUMP award comes with $20,000 in technical support from the Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory. JUMP is an online crowdsourcing initiative – through five DOE national laboratories and private companies – that aims to advance energy-efficient building technologies.

It also comes with support from energy management services provider CLEAResult in applying for up to $300,000 in the DOE's Lab Impact Small Business Voucher (SBV) program, which supports research into developing clean energy technology.

Alsaleem said it could also lead to an even bigger award from CLEAResult this spring. That funding would be crucial for his team to begin the next step.

"Right now, we have a small lab and we don't have the expensive tools to do the fabrication for these small devices," Alsaleem said. "They funded this, they selected this area, so that we could create a startup company or a collaboration with a big company in industry to take this idea to the next phase."