Thursday, February 16, 2017

A 3D-printed carbon fiber experimental house of the future

This prototype house and hybrid natural gas/electric vehicle were built (3D printed and assembled) back in October of 2015. The house was assembled from 3D printed modules, by Clayton Homes. Architectural design by the large firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.

I don’t know how I missed something this epic, except I must have been watching too many cat videos that month. Come to think of it, news about this broke around the time I happily retired. Don't miss this video by Clayton about the home. It is excellent.

The AMIE (Additive Manufacturing Integrated Energy) house sits on the grounds of Oak Ridge National Labs in Tennessee, where it and all of its systems are being monitored and tested. Oak Ridge is the same place which refined uranium-235 for the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, New Mexico, where the first atom bomb was built to drop on Hiroshima during WW II (1945).

It turns out Oak Ridge National Labs does a whole range of research into things like energy and materials in their Energy and Environmental Sciences division. In fact, they were the primary players in the development of this AMIE prototype house and vehicle, along with several other private businesses, organizations, and educational institutions who collaborated. The panels which Clayton assembled to make the house were printed out on a 3D printer in carbon fiber with ABS (a thermoplastic added for strength) at the Oak Ridge National Labs.

This is a proof of concept house, built for research of a unique energy sharing system between home and vehicle—solar/electric in the house and natural gas/electric in the hybrid vehicle.

As they say in their video, “The home won't be usable today or tomorrow.” Obviously, that’s not a sales pitch, but what they mean is this particular house is not going to be coming off a production line ever. For one thing, it doesn’t have a toilet or bathroom, so it’s more of a small lab built for testing the energy systems. But there are kitchen appliances that will run, and the house will be heated and may have hot water. There’s a bed that pulls out of the GE kitchen unit. Maybe the outhouse is out back?

Let's go back to another house of the future. This one was the real House of the Future at Disneyland, built by Monsanto and MIT. Think plastics.

Monsanto's House of the Future stood in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland between 1957 and 1967 and was the most popular attraction there for years. If you like the nostalgia of the one video above, search on YouTube for more about it, because there are several different small documentaries of the house. That House of the Future never became a production model either. However, the future did turn out to have houses which contained a lot of plastics, just not with so much plastic serving as the structure of the wall. When it came time to remove it, it proved nearly indestructible, and couldn't be broken or even dented with a wrecking ball or chainsaw. They had to use choker chains.

Back to the present future house. Here are two more videos about the AMIE house and vehicle. They are both more technical and not as good as the video near the top of the post. 

This AMIE house and vehicle are about sustainability and energy, and the latest 3D printing of modular panels and parts. Both those things are pretty exciting. If they work well, the implications for scaling up these technologies could be enormous.

From reading on the web, I knew that there were a variety of materials which could be used in 3D printing for smaller things like models, or structures that would fit in a room, but I was familiar only with 3D house printing being a large contraption with a reservoir of cement which poops out through a nozzle, forming the walls of a house as it is controlled by a computer.    

How could the YouTube video about it have less than 3,000 views? Even if it were just a carbon fiber shed from a 3D printer, it seems like it would have more. I suppose it has a lot to do with it not going into production anytime soon, and it not be livable. That’s understandable. When I was young there was so much talk about flying cars, most people thought everyone would have them by now.

Warren Buffet is the owner of Clayton Homes, and it’s nice to see a tiny fraction of his billions in something like this, as I doubt any other manufactured home company would have had the resources or interest to collaborate on a project like this.

Whatever you think of Clayton, from maybe having a bad experience with their dubious lending practices -- at one time anyway -- or a problem with one of their trailers, they have stuck their necks out in some concept projects which haven’t had immediate commercial return for them. Any shadiness that went on with Clayton's lending practices were dwarfed by the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008, where 10 families lost their stick-built homes. 

A few smaller home manufactures have pioneered building homes with SIPs instead of a stick frame, but that hasn’t become an industry standard yet. Perhaps the SIPS wood sandwich with foam core insulation will be bypassed for new panels printed in 3D, thus skipping the step between stick framing and something better. I would like to see nearly all houses move away from the use of stick framing with dimensional lumber, and into something more sustainable, durable and modern.

They mention the R-30 insulation all around, which is excellent, but of course, it's not integrated and printed out that way. The insulation was just conventional hard foam board insulation, not printed out with a printer. The real leap will come when the 3D printer can whip material into a suitable exterior surface, insulation and interior wall all at the same time. 

Although this is the most rad house yet, Clayton has experimented with the i-House, eHouse, and Gen-Now homes which were new concepts with limited production. But they did pay off in being a way not only to attract attention, but also test what new features customers would like in their homes, and what things are practical to do.   

When the sun isn’t shining, and it’s nighttime or cloudy, and the vehicle is parked at home, this AMIE house can get its energy wirelessly from the vehicle’s battery storage banks, which are charged by the natural gas engine when driven, or charged by solar from the house.

When the vehicle is parked near the home, it is positioned over a wireless charging dock, and gets its batteries charged via the solar panels on the roof of the house during the day. Whether it’s receiving energy from the house through the solar panels or sending it back to the house, the vehicle doesn’t have to be plugged in.

In the 1890s, Nikola Tesla, one of the greatest scientific minds of the last few centuries, spent several years trying to transfer high voltage power wirelessly. He failed, but now smaller amounts of electricity are transferable wirelessly, for use with laptops and small devices. But Oak Ridge National Labs are getting it up to enough wireless electricity transfer to power a house or car, or at least charge one. I think I read where this higher wireless energy transfer is one of their breakthroughs in this project. It’ll be interesting to see where it goes.  

In addition to Disneyland’s House of the Future, this house also reminds me of Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion House and all of the wonderful houses which have been in the Solar Decathlon for the last few decades, built by college student engineers and architects. A few of those came with vehicles, too.

CLICK HERE for a link to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Innovations in Building website, to explore more information about the AMIE house and vehicle, as well as all the other projects they have going on.

CLICK HERE for a link to the Treehugger website, which after writing this I noticed has an article on this house with lots of nice photos.

The following is a list of materials and products used in the AMIE house, including GE’s “FirstBuild” micro-kitchen. Many of things you can buy and use today, or read about on the web:

1. Thin film monocrystalline PV panels (Renogy 100DB)
2. Printed interior panel
4. Steel joining plate
5. Printed exterior envelope and structure
6. Printed sleeve for tension rod & LED light
7. IGU storefront (Kawneer"Encore")
8. Micro-kitchen (GE "FirstBuild")
10 LED light (Optolum"Briteline 2LP")
12. Steel tensioning rod in greased sleeve
13. Disc spring assembly
14. Printed door handles
15. Minisplit (Mitsubishi"SLZ-KA12NA")
16. Printed stringer
17. Aluminum planks (Alcoa)
18. Steel chassis & amp; removable wheels

Here is a video made recently, showing the printing of a more traditional 3D printed house, this by Apis Cor and printed in Russia, outside of Moscow, in 24 hours. 

The house is only 409 sq. ft. and printed at a cost of about $10,000, not including appliances or electrical/plumbing. This will be very exciting once they figure out how to print roofs, or have robots do the windows and everything else. As it is, the crane machine which stands at the center of the building, which rotates with a nozzle which squirts out the concrete, uses only 8,000 watts.

At present, it saves time, energy and materials compared to traditional concrete building, as no forms have to be set, and complicated shapes can be printed easily:


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