Dr. Bonnie C. Roberts

Webber Energy Group, UT Fire Research Group

Bonnie returns to The University of Texas at Austin as a graduate student in Thermal/Fluid Systems, after graduating in 2005. In the interim, she worked for Applied Research Laboratories (ARL) as a design engineer of subsea systems. As part of a small team, Bonnie was privileged with a great deal of responsibility immediately upon employment. She was involved in every step of the R&D process, from conception to field testing, of the prototypes she helped to develop. Bonnie is applying the skills she gained at ARL to her current research.

Research Topics

Fire Safety in Sustainable Buildings: Status, Options, Alternatives

Bonnie’s research focuses on the complexities of improving fire prevention and mitigation techniques in green/sustainable building design. Consideration for fire risk and safety in the sustainable design process can help prevent the severe environmental impact of fire (e.g. toxic smoke, greenhouse gasses, wastewater runoff, etc.). A single building fire event can negate all efforts towards sustainability through environmental effects, including a significant increase in the building’s lifecycle carbon emissions. Within this context, Bonnie studies thermal insulation and polymeric materials, as described below:

  • Investigating the viability of two emerging, non-toxic, environmentally friendly flame retardants by characterizing and modeling thermal degradation, and by finding thermophysical and combustion properties of treated flexible polyurethane foam. A 2015 EPA report finds that the majority of currently available flame retardants pose high to very high human health, aquatic toxicity, and/or environmental hazards.
  • Performing a statistical analysis correlating microscale combustion results to flame spread test results, which will aid in economical, early stage validation of new flame retardants.
  • Studying the effects of energy efficient/sustainable design on the penetrability of fire into wildland urban interface (WUI) homes. Ember penetration into and ignition of insulated attic spaces is being investigated. This study considers both the most common mechanism for homes burning in wildfire (embers) as well as the use of unprotected and large quantities of insulation in attic spaces. The research aim is to comprehensively understand and quantify key properties of insulation, ember transport through attic vents, and ignition behavior of insulation. The ultimate goal is to develop a standardized test protocol.
  • Developed a Multi-Objective Optimization (MOO) tool to assess building thermal insulation materials on a number of performance parameters (objectives). This tool allows building designers and regulators to easily identify a preferred insulation via these objectives, which include both fire safety and sustainability. Insulating material performance in the applicable Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) credit categories can also be assessed with this tool.
to come

Ph.D. Candidate, Mechanical Engineering, The University of Texas at Austin

B.S., Mechanical Engineering, with Honors, May 2005, The University of Texas at Austin


Thrust 2000 Graduate Fellowship in Engineering, Awarded Fall 2016

First Place in Energy Efficiency, Environmental & Sustainability, UT Energy Week Research Competition 2015

Integrative Graduate Education & Research Traineeship, Awarded Summer 2013

Engineering Foundation Endowed Graduate Presidential Scholarship, Awarded Fall 2012

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