The Técnico alumna Khadija Benis won the André Jordan Award (6th Edition) in the “PhD/Scientific Papers” category. The PhD thesis was carried out under the MIT Portugal program – Sustainable Energy Systems and developed at IN+. Over 4 years, under the supervision of professor Paulo Ferrão (Department of Mechanical Engineering – DEM), the Técnico alumna focused on an emerging research topic: Building-Integrated Agriculture (BIA), which consists of the application of high performance soilless cultivation methods adapted for use on top of or in buildings.
“I am very honoured to receive the André Jordan award, which plays a fundamental role in promoting and creating bridges between the research world and the market, and opens new horizons in the real estate market”, says Khadija Benis. The alumna shares this award with her supervisor, professor Paulo Ferrão, and highlights the “luck of working with professor Christoph Reinhart, one of the greatest experts in the field of sustainable building design and environmental modeling”.
“The main contribution of my work was the development of a simulation workflow that allows to improve the decision-making process, of municipalities and other stakeholders, in the large-scale implementation of IEA systems in urban contexts”, explains Khadija Benis. “The workflow allows to simulate alternative scenarios, using CAD, in any urban area, in order to determine the best BIA solution for a given neighborhood, both from an environmental and economic perspective”, adds the alumna. This simulation constitutes a first step towards the economic assessment of BIA projects’ viability, which demonstrates the innovative character of Khadija Benis’ project.
The prototype was applied to tomato production in three BIA scenarios, in Lisbon. The global warming potential related to irrigation, transportation mode and operational energy was compared to the global warming potential of current tomato supply chains. “In order to test and compare different climatic conditions, types of BIA systems, and metropolitan scales, the tool was subsequently applied in Lisbon, Singapore, Paris and New York”, explains the Técnico alumna.
According to Khadija Benis, the results obtained in Lisbon showed that high performance hydroponic greenhouses can be a more sustainable alternative when compared to the current supply chain. “In today’s growing cities, where land is an expensive commodity and direct exposure to sunlight is a valuable asset, rooftops constitute vast underexploited areas”, highlights Khadija Benis. “The potential to turn these areas into productive spaces – whether for growing food or generating energy – has emerged as a viable option in recent years”, she adds.
The project included methods and tools for assessing industrial ecology, urban planning, and environmental modeling, such as Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), Urban Building Energy Modeling (UBEM), Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA) and Parametric Urban Design. According to Khadija Benis “a transdisciplinary approach is a key component of sustainability projects”. “In addition, I think that the topic of my thesis – the supply chains in cities – is a current issue; living through this pandemic makes it even more urgent to think about these solutions”, highlights the alumna.
The passion for Lisbon and the PhD program that opened doors to the world
Khadija Benis was born in Morocco and arrived in Portugal in 2010 to do an Erasmus Mundus Master Degree – Urban Studies in Mediterranean Regions – at Lisbon School of Architecture, Universidade de Lisboa (FAUL).
She fell in love with Lisbon and decided to stay a little longer to do a postgraduate degree at FAUL. Later, while she was looking for a PhD programme related to sustainable buildings and cities, she discovered the MIT Portugal program – Sustainable Energy Systems. “It seemed like the perfect solution due to the focus on the Sustainable Built Environment and its international scope, which would allow me to develop a high-impact research on urban sustainability”, she recalls. “In addition, I would have the opportunity of conducting part of my research at MIT”, she adds.
“This PhD programme has allowed me to learn and conduct research in a stimulating international and multidisciplinary environment. During the first year of my PhD, I took engineering and economics classes and worked with colleagues from different backgrounds. I had the opportunity to explore different energy topics and to better define my research scope”, says Khadija Benis.
The Alumna also applied for a FCT mixed scholarship, which allowed her to join the MIT Sustainable Design Lab, where she worked with professor Christoph Reinhart. “After finishing my thesis, I went back there as a postdoc and turned my prototype into a plugin, HARVEST, which has already two versions. I had the opportunity to deepen and make this research public through “Food for Thought” sessions at MIT. Since then, I have been working with students who applied HARVEST in several cities around the world, from Chicago to Munich or Riyadh”, says the Técnico alumna.
After 3 years doing research and lecturing at MIT, Khadija Benis has recently returned to Lisbon to join C5Lab, where she continues to do research in the area of building sustainability, but this time in the field of construction materials.
The 6th edition of André Jordan Award received 47 applications
Organised by Confidencial Imobiliário since 2010, the André Jordan Award has two distinct categories: MSc and PhD theses focused on different areas related to cities, tourism and real estate.
The award is delivered every two years. A record number of aplications were received this year: 47.
The jury, chaired by professor Augusto Mateus, was composed of different personalities from academia and business. The online award ceremony will take place on 20th November. Sign up here.
This is the third consecutive time that Técnico alumni win this award. João Appleton, PhD alumnus and visiting professor, won the 5th Edition in the “PhD / Scientific Papers” category. In 2016, the alumna Beatriz Cabral de Melo won the award in the “Master’s Dissertations” category.