Tiny houses are attractive to those who want to downsize their lives and gain a little more financial freedom and mobility. But there are real, practical challenges behind the idealism: unfriendly municipal regulations, not to mention mundane stuff like where one's poop will go, and where water and electricity will come from.
But it may be a matter of seeing the big picture closing the loop: designers from architecture firm SOM, University of Tennessee and researchers from the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory are cleverly tackling the energy issue by using a concept they call "integrated energy". Their innovative design features a 3D printed house, that comes with a 3D printed SUV, which each generate, store and share energy -- boosting energy efficiency both ways, while benefiting from the reduced construction waste and quick turnaround that comes with additive manufacturing techniques.
Dubbed the Additive Manufacturing Integrated Energy Structure, or AMIE 1.0 for short, the building resembles a sleek, ridged microhome straight from the future. The design of both home and car uses carbon-fiber-reinforced ABS plastic (admittedly not the greenest of materials). The home was printed in separate modules that are assembled together and reinforced with steel rods, and insulated with a modified, highly efficient atmosphere insulation panels, resulting in a surprisingly strong and insulated structure.
Certainly the most intriguing thing about the design is the reciprocal energy relationship that the car has with the house. The pair form a bi-directional, "integrated energy" system of 6.6 kW, regulated by computer algorithms, where each can wirelessly send electricity to the other. The 3D printed SUV is a hybrid that uses both electricity and natural gas to power itself. It's parked on an inductive charging pad that allows it to send or receive energy from the solar-powered house -- thus significantly solving the electricity issue on cloudy days. If there's no electricity at all from either solar panels or car, the house can still tap into the energy grid.
Thanks to the additive manufacturing process, the prototype took only one year to realize from start to finish. The team is already looking to hammer out a second, improved version, which may feature a car with different energy sources and storage methods (bio-fuels, hydrogen fuel cells, flow batteries, etc). Says ORNL’s Roderick Jackson on Gizmag:
In the AMIE demonstration project, we are trying to illustrate what our future might look like if we shared our energy streams for buildings and transportation, using additive manufacturing as a tool to drive rapid innovation. The challenges we face can’t wait for the innovation cycles that currently exist for our buildings and vehicles energy ecosystem. These challenges include electricity outages caused by extreme weather events, energy poverty around the globe, and intermittent renewable generation.
Integrated into one self-supporting system, AMIE 1.0 is but one eye-opening example of what happens when creative thinking, cutting-edge technology and sustainability converge to tackle the pressing problems of our day, creating a new vision of what off-grid living can entail. More over at ORNL and SOM.