A grey wall with blue piping inside.

The EMPOWER Wall is a first-of-its-kind smart wall that combines advanced manufacturing, building innovations, and power electronics. In early March, 2021, the wall arrived at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) for demonstration. Researchers will collect data from May to July 2021 and present results during the 2021 Energy Exchange.

A team of staff from the Department of Energy’s Building Technologies Office, Advanced Manufacturing Office, and ORNL, collaborated to develop the EMPOWER Wall, which functions as a cooling system that helps reduce energy use, decrease peak energy demand, lower energy bills, utilize renewable energy, and maintain occupant comfort. The wall’s functionality and design can be customized and adapted for installation in any building. The developers first unveiled the EMPOWER Wall during a live demonstration at the 2020 Energy Exchange.

The EMPOWER wall, which measures five-by-eight feet, was 3D-printed at the Department of Energy's Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at ORNL using a unique, infrastructure-scale, additive-manufacturing system called SkyBAAM. SkyBAAM is low-cost, cable-driven, and field-deployable, and can be adapted for any construction site. The EMPOWER Wall is connected to a chiller and contains thermal-storage and active-insulation systems. Embedded pipes carry chilled water through the wall during low-demand hours, reducing its interior temperature. The on-demand cooling capability of the active insulation reduces electricity costs by offsetting the use of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning, or HVAC, system. The EMPOWER wall also uses a control method called "model predictive control" to optimize the operation of the active insulation and thermal storage by predicting future conditions, such as variations in weather or the occupant’s behavior.

ORNL will also use the EMPOWER wall to conduct research on carbon capture in concrete. Through additive manufacturing, ORNL can precisely control the deposition conditions, such as temperature, environmental carbon concentrations, and humidity, to create structures which not only use less energy, but also sequester atmospheric carbon over time. The development of a metering extruder capable of precisely controlling the conditions of deposition is a necessary condition for the future printing of large-scale, carbon-neutral structures. The layer-wise additive manufacturing process allows for the direct integration of sensors for continuous health and efficiency monitoring and will enable optimization of the complete wall system.

For more information, please contact Hayes Jones.