Thomas Jusselme, Associate Professor in Energy Efficiency in Buildings
Thomas Jusselme was appointed associate professor in energy efficiency in buildings at the smart living lab’s ENERGY Institute. Since the beginning of this semester, he teaches “Renewable energies” and “Building physics” at the School of Engineering and Architecture of Fribourg (HEIA-FR). He will continue to work until the end of 2019 within the Building2050 Group, in order to achieve his research activities regarding the future building of the smart living lab. As of 2020, he will join full time the ENERGY Institute to support its projects on low carbon and low energy building design.
You know the smart living lab pretty well, since you joined in 2014, at the very beginning of the project. What are your thoughts on this interdisciplinary research center?
It is true that we came a long way since our time spent at the Route de la Fonderie, where we started together with Anne-Claude Cosandey and Veronica Cubarle! The smart living lab started as a vision full of promises, whose implementation, although exciting, is very challenging. The experimental, interdisciplinary, and inter-institutional nature of the project, driven by the idea of “living lab”, will grant it for sure a place on a national and international stages. As a researcher, I have the privilege to be in contact with researchers from other domains with whom we share common interests.
How important is research in your teaching?
I had the opportunity to teach 7 years before joining the EPFL, but with little research activities. Later, with the Building2050 Group, it was the opposite: I devoted all my energy to developing the research program preceding the construction of the future smart living lab building. As a result, I now realize I need a certain balance between these two activities, as they are interwoven. Teaching allows to step back and think on our work, and build a well-structured speech, where students are the mirror of our capacity to deliver knowledge. Conversely, research contributes significantly to update our teachings, and to ensure that students have a vision of the issues they will need to tackle in the future.
Alongside with your academic work, you also launched a start-up. Could you explain the gap between these two activities ?
It is actually the other way round. I was an entrepreneur before joining the academic world, which is itself a kind of discrepancy. I co-founded an architectural and an engineering practice when I was 25, which forced me to quickly learn different areas, not only the expertise, but also business management. But after ten years, I felt the need to get more seriously involved in innovation for sustainable construction, and to change the way I work. The mission I was offered by the EPFL within the Building2050 group, was a wonderful opportunity for me to explore this desire. In addition, I could start working on my thesis, which led to a technological transfer between EPFL and a start-up I co-founded. It was to me the logical flow of my career, as I felt the need to anchor my work in research, and to confront them to field reality. As a teacher and researcher, I would like to associate practice and research on the long run.
What research activity related to the built environment of the future would you like to pursue?
I focus my work on improving the energy performance / carbon in the construction sector. My first line of work takes the building into account as a whole, with a more holistic view, either in terms of a life-cycle approach, or a multi-purpose approach. I try to integrate the flow and matter that fall within the building system. This needs a change of perspective, since buildings performance was long considered through its use phase only and not for all its energy demand. Buildings become more and more efficient, it is therefore necessary to implement a global analysis to avoid pollution transfer, for instance, between energy demand and gray energy. My second line of work consists in making this holistic approach easily accessible from the very beginning of the design process, since that is exactly where the need of research and development lies. Indeed, this stage of financially high-risk projects for building owners does not offer the resources needed to integrate extensive engineering studies, and it is a vital design phase that will determine the sustainability of the project. These two areas are really exciting, since they bridge many different disciplines, specially architecture, building physics/structural physics, statistics, mechanical engineering, data-visualization, machine learning, etc.
What do you do when you are not teaching or doing research?
At present, I devote 20% of my time to my start-up, called Combo Solutions. I also try to spend as much time as I can with my partner and our three children. We love the mountains in Fribourg, and travelling with the whole family. I also play the trumpet every week in the Big-Band of the Conservatory of Music of Fribourg.