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The Future is Now—Or At Least Nearer with ORNL’s 3D-Printed House and Car

Posted by Marlene Taylor on January 22, 2016
The Future is Now—Or At Least Nearer with ORNL’s 3D-Printed House and Car
This house was printed using a 3-D printer. So was the car.

Energy supplies and efficiency in new home construction took an interesting turn when researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) unveiled their 3D printed house last September. The prototype, called AMIE (Additive Manufacturing Integrated Energy) is a futuristic-style house complete with a glass entry, integrated lighting, pull-out bed and an all-in-one micro-kitchen with a touch screen console and a full array of appliances (including a dishwasher). The home may be connected to the grid but is also solar-powered. The project involved more than 20 industrial collaborators, including the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, architecture firm Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill LLP, and the University of Tennessee’s College of Architecture and Design.

Researchers printed the 210-sq-ft home on ORNL’s large-scale 3D printer called the Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) machine to create what is now the world’s largest 3D printed polymer structure. The entire process – from concept to assembly to the unveiling in September 2015 – took nine months. A team that included engineers and staff from Clayton Homes assembled the printed pieces of the house in three weeks. The home differs from previous 3D structures in its improved functionality, durability and energy efficiency. After trying various kinds of materials, the research team selected ABS plastic and added carbon fiber to add strength to the printed sections. Vacuum insulated panels that were installed between the inner and outer walls of the structure are seven times more energy efficient than traditional wall insulation. Recessed windows and a streamlined, reflecting white exterior also contribute to the energy efficiency of the home. A rooftop solar photovoltaic system pairs with used car batteries provide renewable power generation and storage.

The use of 3D printing in home construction has the ability to revolutionize certain aspects of the building industry. Because each component of the structure can be produced to exact specifications, 3D printing potentially uses less material and produces more complex shapes to make the structure sturdier.

It also uses less energy and generates zero waste. Using additive manufacturing techniques in certain development and production can help companies to get their products to the market more quickly than through current manufacturing. New design concepts can be printed and evaluated almost immediately; the designers can make adjustments on the fly.

Made for each other

The other half of this innovative project is the 3D printed utility vehicle (PUV) that shares energy with the house via lab-developed wireless technology. The hybrid natural-gas-powered PUV can power the house when sunlight is low, electricity from the grid is interrupted, or the house’s battery is depleted. Likewise, the house battery mounted under the porch supplies energy to a charging pad outside the house. The PUV is parked over the pad so its battery is above the pad and is recharged. An intelligent control system transfers energy to or from where it is needed—from solar or battery power—while the PUV is parked. The bidirectional wireless charging system eliminates the conventional infrastructure normally needed, making AMIE by far easier and quicker to set up.

Give me shelter

The integrated approach to energy generation, storage and consumption introduces possible solutions for the modern electric grid, which is often compromised by extreme weather events, and for the nation’s and the world’s move away from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.

The research team who created AMIE are already envisioning the next steps in furthering the technologies and how they can be used to help the building and construction industries improve their processes and designs. Having established the operational components of additive manufacturing and integrated energy, ORNL has a steady foothold and some promising solutions for future housing and energy needs.

ORNL researchers and industry partners were in Las Vegas, January 19-21 for the 2016 International Builders’ Show where the AMIE demonstration was on display for the first time outside of lab and available for the public to tour. Learn more about AMIE at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RCkQBlFJRN4 and http://www.ornl.gov/amie.

This project is sponsored DOE-EERE’s Building Technologies Office, Advanced Manufacturing Office, and Vehicle Technologies Office.

  • Marlene Taylor for ORNL

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