ORNL Debuts Smart Wall Technology
Earlier this month, researchers from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory demonstrated what they are calling a “first-of-its-kind smart wall” that they say combined advanced manufacturing and building innovation during the Department of Energy’s Federal Energy Management Program’s virtual 2020 Energy Exchange.
The prototype wall—dubbed “Empower”—is designed for interior use and demonstrated how a wall assembly could serve as a room’s cooling system and therefore reduce energy use, decrease energy demand, lower utility bills and utilize renewable energy.
The wall, which measures 5-feet by 8-feet, was 3D-printed at the DOE’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at ORNL using an infrastructure scale additive manufacturing system called SkyBAAM that prints concrete.
“What makes SkyBAAM unique is that it eliminates the need for a gantry system commonly found in large-scale additive manufacturing systems,” said ORNL manufacturing researcher Brian Post. “This can be set up within hours at a construction site with minimal site preparation.”
Inside the wall is a thermal storage and active insulation system with a chiller that connects to the wall. Embedded pipes carry the cold water throughout the wall during low-peak demand hours, cooling its interior temperature.
A smart inverter powers the chiller connected to the wall and the pumps that transfer the cool temperature stored in the concrete to the wall’s surface. This inverter is connected to a battery that also stores energy from the building’s main power grid during low-electricity demand times and allows the energy to be available when needed during peak demand times.
However, it’s the active insulation that does the trick.
“Active insulation surrounding the thermal storage can vary thermal conductivity on demand,” said ORNL’s Diana Hun, a buildings researcher. “It transfers coolness stored in the interior of the wall to the occupied space when needed.”
That capability is what reduces the HVAC needs, and everything that follows.
The wall also has embedded sensors that link to a predictive control model to optimize all operations.
According to ORNL, two additional Empower walls are being built for installation in office buildings in fiscal year 2021. FEMP has collaborated with ORNL to produce the walls, test functionality and reveal field validation results during the 2021 Energy Exchange.