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Empowering savings potential in buildings

US Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) researchers have demonstrated that cooling cost savings could be achieved with a 3D printed concrete smart wall following a three-month field test.

The smart technology named ‘the EMPOWER wall’ contains thermal storage and active insulation systems. The thermal storage system is made of a chiller that connects to the wall. Pipes embedded in the wall carry chilled water throughout the wall during low peak demand hours, cooling the interior temperature of the wall.

Active insulation surrounding the thermal storage can vary its thermal conductivity on demand; therefore, it transfers the coolness stored in the interior of the wall to the occupied space when needed. In the winter, the temperature of the wall is raised above the indoor space and heat is released.

The on-demand capabilities of the active insulation reduce electricity costs by lowering the use of the HVAC system during peak demand hours or when costs are high. This ability to tailor the HVAC’s operation provides flexibility.

The team used data from the 5-foot by 8-foot wall installed in an ORNL conference room and predictive modelling to estimate performance in the South-Eastern United States climate zone during summer months. The modelling indicated a full deployment would show an 8% savings with the potential to go higher.

Data gathered included energy efficiency, costs, resilience, and overall performance in reducing electricity demand without compromising the occupant’s comfort.

“Preliminary analysis shows this prototype wall has a potential to save energy and reduce peak demand,” ORNL’s Piljae Im said. “Future modelling analysis will include increasing the wall’s cooling capacity and analysing savings potential in different climate zones.”