A high-performance building prototype which shares energy with a natural-gas-powered hybrid electric vehicle.A cross-disciplinary team at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have designed an innovative single-room building module to demonstrate new manufacturing and building technology pathways. The research project, named Additive Manufacturing Integrated Energy (AMIE), leverages rapid innovation through additive manufacturing, commonly known as ‘3d printing,’ to connect a natural-gas-powered hybrid electric vehicle to a high-performance building designed to produce, consume, and store renewable energy. The vehicle and building were developed concurrently as part of the AMIE project. The goal of AMIE was twofold according to Dr. Roderick Jackson, Group Leader of Building Envelope Systems Research and Project Lead for the AMIE project at ORNL: “First, how do we integrate two separate strains of energy: buildings and vehicles; and secondly, how do we use additive manufacturing as a way to create a framework for rapid innovation while not becoming constrained by the resources of today?” Additive manufacturing contributed to formal expression of the building envelope structure and offered efficiencies in material usage while significantly reducing construction waste. Jackson says the design and manufacturing process became embedded into the ‘rapid innovation’ spirit of the project. “The architects at SOM worked hand in hand with the manufacturing process, sharing the building model with the 3d printers in the same way that the vehicle shares power with building. For example, within the course of less than a week, between the manufacturer, the material supplier, the 3d printers, and the architects, we were able to work together to reduce the print time by more than 40%.” In total, the AMIE project – from research, through design, manufacturing, and assembly – took 9 months. The building incorporates low-cost vacuum insulated panels into an additively manufactured shell, printed in 2’ widths in half ring profiles, assembled at Clayton Homes, the nation’s largest manufactured home builder. The vacuum insulated panels consist of Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) with 20% carbon fiber reinforcement, a material which serves as a “starting point” for Jackson and his team: “We wanted to open up the door for people to say ‘what if?’ What if we used a non-traditional material to construct a building? I see this product as a ‘gateway.’ This might not be the final material we’ll end up using to construct buildings in the future. We’ll need to find locally available materials and utilize more cost-saving techniques. But we had to start somewhere. The ABS product will open the door for a conversation.” The project emerged out of fundamental questions concerning access to, and use of energy. Climate change, an increasing demand for renewable energy sources, and uncertainty in the balance of centralized versus distributed energy resources all impact the grid. In addition, more than 1.3 billion people worldwide have no access to an electric grid, and for an additional billion people, grid access is unreliable. AMIE will doubly function in the near future as an educational showcase to both the public who will learn of its story, and ORNL researchers who will continue to monitor how energy is generated, used, and stored. Will there be an AMIE 2.0? Jackson responds: “We don’t look at this as a one hit wonder. We really want this research to be the first stone thrown in the water that causes a ripple throughout the disciplines involved. Not only for us, but throughout the world. We want to put this out there so other smart people can look at it and brainstorm. If the end of the next project looks anything like AMIE 1.0, then we’ve missed the boat.”
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When Alvin Huang and his colleagues at Synthesis Design + Architecture (SDA) saw the brief for Volvo’s “Switch to Pure Volvo” competition, they decided to give the auto manufacturer more than it had asked for. The competition, which was organized by The Plan magazine, asked architects to design an iconic, yet portable, pavilion for the new Volvo V60 plug-in hybrid electric car. SDA came up with the Pure Tension pavilion, a steel-frame structure that not only assembles in an hour, but is small enough to fit in the trunk of the car. And the pavilion doesn’t just showcase the car: it also charges it, thanks to 252 lightweight flexible photovoltaic panels incorporated into the structure’s mesh fabric surface. “[We were] really thinking about the potential for this to be more of an application than an object,” Huang said. SDA’s Pure Tension pavilion beat out 150 other entries to win the competition last spring, and has since begun a 9-month promotional tour with the car brand, to culminate in an appearance at The Plan’s annual Perspective event next summer. A product of SDA’s ongoing research into dynamic mesh relaxation, the Pure Tension pavilion comprises a CNC bent aluminum frame with a two-piece vinyl encapsulated polyester mesh membrane. The photovoltaic panels are arrayed within an applied black-on-white graphic that accentuates the pavilion’s curves. SDA utilized intensive solar incidence analysis to place the panels for maximum exposure to sunlight, while an integrated Maximum Power Point Tracking controller automatically disables underperforming cells to optimize power collection. The power from the panels goes to an attached battery pack, which in turn delivers a steady charge to the car. The entire system weighs only 150 pounds and fits into two 65-inch-by-15-inch-by-15-inch rifle cases. Huang sees the Pure Tension pavilion as a meditation on how the move away from fossil fuels might transform car culture. “It’s more a vision of the future, much the way a concept car is,” he said. “It’s not meant to be a production item, more like an attitude being taken, where we want to explore.” Huang highlighted two features of the pavilion in particular. First, there’s the fact that the pavilion simultaneously charges and shades the care. “One of the problems with charging electric cars is that charging generates heat,” he explained. “You have to put them in the sun.” The Pure Tension pavilion protects the Volvo V60 hybrid from overheating while harnessing solar energy for later use. In addition, because the pavilion sends energy from the photovoltaic panels to a battery pack, it doesn’t need to be attached to the car in order to do its work. “In theory,” Huang said, “you can set up the pavilion, drive away, come back, and charge [your car]...as opposed to setting it up and getting three minutes of charge because you’re stopped for three minutes.” The pavilion was designed by SDA with structural engineering help from Buro Happold Los Angeles. It was fabricated by Fabric Images in Chicago, with custom photovoltaic panels by Texas company Ascent Solar.