CFD Simulation for Sustainable Design

CFD Simulation for Sustainable Design

02 Jun 2021

This informal CPD article CFD Simulation for Sustainable Design was provided by SimScale, a new, cloud-based approach to CAE, FEA and CFD. The architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. It is estimated that building construction and operation consume 36% of the world’s energy and accounts for 40% of the energy-related carbon emissions . As such, many governing bodies have amended policies to establish sustainable design as a fundamental driver of new development.  

Legitimizing sustainable design through regulatory guidelines leaves AEC professionals with a need to embrace new tools that not only demonstrate compliance with evolving policy but offer solutions to challenges in creating energy-efficient designs. Cloud-based simulation modernizes traditional workflows by untethering designers from the constraints of on-premises hardware. Now, leveraging the cloud enables architects and engineering to collaborate in real-time and iterate quickly so that sustainable choices can be made earlier in the design process.

What is Sustainable Design?

Sustainable design is guided by the prioritization of ecological considerations such as reducing demand of non-renewable resources, minimizing waste, and creating healthy environments for occupants and pedestrians. The term encompasses many initiatives found in the AEC industry, from net-zero buildings that offset their energy usage by producing as much energy as they consume, to natural ventilation strategies which achieve optimal air quality while reducing the dependency on energy-inefficient HVAC systems.

Many of the principles of sustainable design are concretized by internationally adopted rating systems which establish building standards for lowering carbon emissions. LEED and BREEAM, among others, set benchmarks against which buildings are assessed for reduced energy and water use, waste management and more.

How Does CFD Simulation Drive Sustainable Design?

Building simulation software is keeping pace with the advancing needs of architects and engineers. AEC professionals design their buildings at the juncture of energy needs, policy and a changing climate so, powerful tools are needed to provide accurate, meaningful insight into the dynamic relationship between the three.

Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD), which simulates fluid motion using numerical approaches, allows designers and engineers to model basic heat transfer methods and study the flow of air and water. Within AEC, CFD is used to test and validate design choices so architects and engineers can arrive at the iteration that shows greatest value for reducing carbon emissions. This design workflow can be applied to aspects of internal building design, such as thermal comfort for occupants and air quality, as well as the external environment.

Thermal Comfort

For building designers to assess the thermal comfort of their project, a number of complex factors must be taken into consideration. Physical and climatic aspects must be evaluated within different scenarios created by changing variables, like occupancy rate, air velocity, and humidity. This all plays a dynamic role in the energy demands of the building and its overall environmental performance. CFD is a highly valuable tool useful for determining thermal comfort while measuring energy consumption.

Air Quality

Likewise, CFD can be used to capture the level of physics required for evaluating air quality. Simulation results can provide designers with a mean age of air, which is an indicator of air quality for occupants and the efficacy of ventilation strategies. One step further, CFD can ensure designers that healthy levels of air quality are maintained while optimizing for reduced energy demand. CFD can be leveraged to assess compliance with low-energy performance standards like Passivhaus.


Externally, buildings must contend with a dynamic environment of wind, sun, severe weather, and even other buildings. This hyper-local set of specific atmospheric conditions is called the microclimate and it has a large impact on the sustainability of building. Microclimate modelling and wind analysis give insight into the aerodynamics of a building and can mitigate against several aspects that affect the comfort and safety of occupants and pedestrians.

CFD can also inform greening strategies which have proven positive impacts on the liveability of densely populated and built-up urban spaces. CFD is used to correctly model and evaluates the kind of impact trees and other vegetation might have on-site.

Cloud-based simulation empowers AEC professionals to test and validate the best design decision for creating sustainable buildings in a quicker time frame. It reduces time in the early design process, without sacrificing accuracy, while enhancing our understanding of the internal and external environment and is quickly gaining steam as a means to show compliance with sustainability policy.

We hope this article was helpful. For more information from SimScale, please visit their CPD Member Directory page. Alternatively please visit the CPD Industry Hubs for more CPD articles, courses and events relevant to your Continuing Professional Development requirements.


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