Rapidly renewable, SOM + ORNL design 3D-printed enclosures

Rapidly renewable, SOM + ORNL design
3D-printed enclosures

by CHRISTINA KLINEPETER, for BuiltWorlds | Sep 29, 2015

Innovation in a hurry? That may not sound like the ideal setting for lasting, breakthrough solutions. But if necessity is the mother of invention, then historic examples like the 1893 Columbian Exposition and the Space Race demonstrate how collecting bright minds in one place and focusing them on an urgent mission certainly can pay off.

And that appears to be the scenario now playing out in Tennessee, where last week Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and international design giant SOM announced AMIE1.0, the fruit of a broad public-private partnership focused on rapid innovation and collaboration to produce global energy solutions. Spawned from the U.S. Dept. of Energy (USDOE), and the Governor’s Chair for Energy + Urbanism at the University of Tennessee, AMIE stands for "Additive Manufacturing Integrated Energy." This initial demonstration project features a 3D-printed enclosure designed by SOM and powered with renewable energy from a 3D-printed vehicle developed by ORNL.

It is the tangible result of an unprecedented “innovation consortium” among government, academia and a wide variety of industry partners, all focused on advanced manufacturing, vehicle technologies, building technologies, and sustainable electricity.

SOM's Enquist

SOM's Enquist

“The innovation consortium is an excellent example of design, government, science, the university, and multiple industry partners working together to push the limits of building technology and high performance design to solve some of the world’s most urgent issues in energy and urbanism,” said Philip Enquist, SOM partner in charge of urban design and planning, and leader of its City Design Practice group. He also serves as the 14th Governor’s Chair. "This pioneering effort seeks to identify and develop innovative strategies for achieving a sustainable balance between the world’s rapidly growing cities, their energy demands and the natural environment,” he added.

The UT-ORNL Governor’s Chair for Energy + Urbanism collaboration is a five-year research exploration in science and design involving ORNL, SOM, and the university’s College of Architecture and Design. 

With AMIE, the single-room building module demonstrates the use of additive manufacturing and integrated energy. Its design evolved over time as a team of researchers from ORNL and architects and engineers from SOM collaborated to push conventional limits and bring AMIE1.0 from concept to launch in just one year—a remarkably rapid accomplishment.

According to SOM, the size and form of AMIE’s enclosure has been determined and optimized by stretching the boundaries of technology as it intersects with sustainability and function. The team’s engineers were able to reduce significantly the thickness of the enclosure’s walls and to score a phenomenal R-value on its thermal insulation performance. Full-scale load testing also confirmed the viability of the structure in accordance with building codes.

In this no-waste concept, users 3D-print only what they need, eliminating much of the typical refuse that construction projects assume, which can measure up to 25% waste. Future iterations of AMIE will continue to challenge such assumptions and stretch the edge of all these possibilities.

Understanding the histories of ORNL and SOM shed light on the dynamic collaboration that birthed AMIE1.0. ORNL just last year made history with Strati, the world’s first 3-D printed car, which debuted at The International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago. A global AEP leader, SOM is renowned for authoring myriad architectural, engineering and planning feats and firsts, from the Willis Tower to Burj Khalifa, and city master planning from Chicago to Bahrain. For years, the multi-disciplinary firm also has been an influential advocate for sustainable practices.


While our current context bursts with global environmental challenges, all of this innovation also comes at a time when the marketplace is showing promising signs of readiness to leverage the research and development showcased in AMIE1.0.

For example, Tesla Motors continues to gain market share with its sleek luxury cars that plug into an owner’s home to recharge during sleeping hours. This spring, Tesla announced its new PowerWall, a home battery that charges with electricity generated from residential solar panels. This offers independence from the utility grid and the security of an emergency backup, the company claims.

Simultaneously, tiny homes have become a trend in the residential industry. The cable television home channel, HGTV, currently has several popular shows on the movement with large audiences that follow this growing lifestyle. From Tesla’s electric cars and its PowerWall to tiny homes and enclosures powered by solar vehicles, one can hardly imagine what the future may hold at this point, some of which AMIE1.0 already features. 

Bi-directional, sustainably-sourced energy that is shared between building and car, efficient enclosed spaces and advanced manufacturing that focuses on zero waste all are exciting developments. Now on the brink of reality, they may yet have a fantastic impact on creating a more environmentally sustainable future.

For more on the workings of the energy-generating vehicle, click here.


Now a consultant with SOM, the author is former creative marketing lead for industry jobs search engine Hard Hat Hub. She can be reached via e-mail here. Next month, she starts as marketing director for global nonprofit World Relief.  (Godspeed, CK!)


NOTE: AMIE1.0 was unveiled Sept. 23-24 at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Industry Day at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Additional industry partners that collaborated on AMIE1.0 include Clayton Homes, Alcoa/Kawneer, NanoPore, GE Appliances, Cincinnati Inc, Mach Fuels, KUB, Techmer ES, Tru-Design, DowAksa, Hexagon Lincoln, Johnson Controls, Liberty Utilities, Spiers New Technologies, IACMI The Composites Institute, Line-X and EPB. For more information, visit ORNL’s AMIE website and/or SOM’s press release.

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