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This 3-D-Printed House Gets All The Power It Needs From A Car

The grid is hopelessly antiquated and has to pull power from far away. What if your house was on its own microgrid?

When it needs extra power, this new experimental building can start pulling energy from the car parked in front. And if the solar panels on the roof start pumping out more energy than needed, the building sends it to the car.

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Brian Lee, design partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, which partnered with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee to create the house-car pair, wanted a concrete example of how to think differently about how cities consume energy. The goal was to see if a car could power a house at times of peak use or even when there’s a blackout.

The portable home or office they built, which looks a little like a modern version of an Airstream trailer, was also designed to use as little energy as possible. The 3-D-printed walls include ultra-high-efficiency insulation. The LED lights and a GE-designed micro-kitchen use little power, so built-in solar panels outside can cover most energy needs and send extra to the car. The car, a natural-gas hybrid, is also an energy source. A wireless charging pad sends power back and forth as needed.

“Instead of relying on the grid–which everybody says is a kind of inefficient way to store energy, because of distances–here you have it where you need it,” says Lee.

Because the building is 3-D printed, it also saves materials and energy during construction. A typical building might waste as much as 25% of the wood, sheetrock, roofing, and other materials that are cut to make it. This structure–a shell that replaces every part of conventional walls–uses only the material that ends up in the final product.

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“It uses material, spits it out, and that’s it,” says Lee. “You don’t have to mill it, cut it, and throw what you don’t need away. Whatever you need, you use.”

Using a 3-D printer also allowed designers to work out the details as construction was happening. “We were fascinated by the promise of the ability to design digitally and connect it to robotic production in a way that was very immediate,” he says. “We had designers working on the computer, and the files go immediately to the machine. The technician at the machine is watching what’s happening.”

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If the building ever needs to be replaced, the ABS resin material can be ground up and sent through the 3-D printer again. The same thing can happen during construction.

The house and car, called AMIE 1.0 (Additive Manufacturing Integrated Energy), are on display at the University of Tennessee in October.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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