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Developing Digital Twin to Study Climate Change Impact on Infrastructure

University of Pittsburg engineers have secured over $700,000 in funding to develop a digital replica of the building that houses the sustainability institute. This digital twin technology aims to investigate the impact of climate change on critical infrastructure.

Developing Digital Twin to Study Climate Change Impact on Infrastructure
Benedum line drawing elevation. Image Credit: University of Pittsburgh

Although the concept of a digital twin may seem like science fiction, Pitt engineers are actively working to bring this technology to the campus and beyond.

Digital twins are essentially real-time computer models that can simulate various conditions, including weather, traffic patterns, and the effects of climate change. However, there is still ongoing work to fully understand how climate change affects infrastructure over its lifespan, particularly in terms of how it influences the day-to-day operations of a building.

The University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering has been awarded $735,872 by the National Science Foundation. Their goal is to create a digital twin of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation (MCSI), which is a sustainability center at the university located in Benedum Hall. This initiative aims to assist in predicting and addressing the potential impacts of climate change on infrastructure in the future.

Understanding this complex relationship between environmental demand and performance of vertical infrastructure will help us develop response strategies and unlock advanced climate adaptation with the ultimate goal of minimizing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Alessandro Fascetti, Lead Principal Investigator and Assistant Professor, University of Pittsburgh

In the modern, urbanized world, building horizontal and vertical infrastructure remains a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).

By creating a digital twin, Fascetti, in collaboration with Melissa Bilec, Co-Principal Investigator, William Kepler Whiteford Professor, and Director of MCSI, along with John Brigham, Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, can establish, execute, and verify a framework for monitoring and forecasting real-time data for the MCSI building.

The MCSI building, which earned LEED Gold certification upon its construction in 2007, was a result of a previous NSF award received by Bilec. It is equipped with an advanced system for monitoring energy consumption and indoor air quality.

In addition to the standard building automation systems and meters found in other Pitt structures, it incorporates detailed electrical consumption monitoring through multiple panel-based electrical meters and flowmeters for the Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning (HVAC) system.

Additionally, Indoor Environment Quality (IEQ) data is collected using the AirCuity OptiNet System. This system utilizes a central sensor suite and specialized structured cables that house air sampling tubes and control wires for precise monitoring.

The research team will utilize their deep expertise in dynamic Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs), material flow analysis, reality capture, adaptive building envelopes, mechanical design optimization, artificial intelligence, and mechanistic machine learning to create a comprehensive framework for evaluating and forecasting the performance of vertical infrastructure over its entire lifespan.

Because of the diverse streams of data we can obtain in real-time from the MCSI, we’ll be able to focus on developing a novel digital twin framework for the quantification of GHG emissions associated with the operation of vertical infrastructure to minimize its environmental footprint by designing and deploying environmentally responsive building envelopes.

Alessandro Fascetti, Lead Principal Investigator and Assistant Professor, University of Pittsburgh

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