ORNL, Alabama A&M study the energy aspects of the H side, boost minority partneringYou’ve done it: You twist on your “H” faucet and wait for the hot water to come. Depending on your home’s plumbing, you may wait a good while. And you’ve likely wondered how much energy and water you’re wasting, especially if you are the one who foots the utility bills.
Energy Division’s Evelyn Baskin says that, surprisingly, there isn’t much data on how much energy and water are wasted in residences because of the hot-water wait and associated energy losses. ORNL, working under a subcontract agreement with Alabama A&M University, plans to study and collect data on residential hot-water use and possibly make recommendations on how to avert some of those water and energy losses.
“We were surprised at how little industry data existed on hot-water and waste-water waste,” Baskin says. “The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers told us they would be very interested in research into this area.”
As homes and their appliances become more energy efficient, the energy used in heating water is becoming too large an energy expenditure to ignore, she explains. Energy Division’s Bob Wendt adds that the next major gains in residential energy efficiency are likely to be in water heating and distribution.
The project is the keystone of an effort by ORNL, spurred by the Small Business Program Office, to boost the Lab’s research collaborations with historically black colleges and universities and minority education institutions. The Alabama A&M proposal last year won Deputy Director Richard Genung’s challenge pledge of $50,000 in Lab support of projects with HBCUs/MEIs.
Selected students from Alabama A&M will canvas middle-income homes in the Huntsville area on their hot-water consumption habits and trends. They’ll be supported with computer models that will show them where best to locate thermocouples and other instruments to collect data.
The next major gains in residential energy efficiency are likely to be in water heating and distribution.
“There are devices on the market, such as pumps, that can speed the delivery of hot water,” Baskin says. “These systems can also include loops that recirculate water back into the system instead of putting it down the drain. But many of these require the user to activate them, which might reduce their effectiveness. Their effectiveness isn’t really well documented, and their impact on overall energy consumption is not known.”
Other energy saving techniques could be as simple as insulating pipes or as complex as designing homes with more efficient piping configurations—or putting the water heater closer to the tap, as is typical in Europe.
On an individual scale, such efficiency gains might seem modest; on a national scale, such savings could be enormous. In addition, conserving water, usually an abundant resource in East Tennessee, is a major goal in more arid and rapidly growing areas of the country. For example, ORNL ran a study with the Maytag company in parched Bern, Kansas, two years ago to test a water-conserving washing-machine design.
Baskin says Alabama A&M was awarded the work to study the water-heating issue after she and Wendt, the Buildings Technology Center’s HBCU coordinator, sought HBCUs with engineering and architecture programs.
“Only one in 10 has these programs,” she says. “However, Alabama A&M, being situated close to the Marshall Space Flight Center, had significant experience in fluid dynamics from work with NASA on propulsion projects. They are an excellent fit with this program. I think they can really succeed with this project because they have the capabilities there.”
Baskin, herself a Tuskegee alumna, and Wendt say the BTC has other energy-efficiency-related projects with HBCU/MEIs under way.
Will Minter, who heads the Lab’s Small Business Program Office, agrees with Baskin and Wendt that the HBCUs are a good resource for ORNL in doing this type of research and praised Deputy Director Genung’s willingness to support, with his challenge grant, growth in those collaborations.
- North Carolina A&T University is currently working on a design concept by Energy’s John Tomlinson, who coordinated the Bern project, for a heat-pump system that uses the by-product heat from refrigerators to heat water. The school received the project’s hardware from ORNL in August and is refining the concept’s design.
- At Tuskegee, Wendt is advocating a project to design very-low-cost housing that can be acquired with normal market-based loans. Many low-cost housing programs are heavily subsidized; Wendt believes low-cost, energy-efficient basic home designs—without the uncertainty of subsidy programs—could be provided for those who “fall in the cracks” in qualifying for these subsidy programs. “It’s also a self-sustaining approach,” he says.
- In related work at Tuskegee, Wendt wants students there to study health and safety issues related to very-low-cost homes. “Existing low-cost housing can be among the worst in terms of occupant health and safety,” he says. “Thus far most of the work done in health and safety has been focused on upscale homes. In low-cost housing, can we also deal with excessive moisture and pollutants to make it a healthier place to live?”
- Wendt is also working on a proposal with an HBCU to study home construction that is resistant to flood damage. Flooded homes usually must be gutted to the framing, and the expenses mount up to billions of dollars. Last fall’s hurricane-spawned flooding in North Carolina is an extreme example. This program would investigate whether alternative building techniques and materials—such as foam-plastic insulation—could recover from minor flooding without extensive, and expensive, reconstruction. Wendt says the proposal is receiving interest and support from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Federal Emergency Management Agency as well as DOE.
“Many of our researchers simply don’t know about this resource,” Minter says. “We want to create an environment where researchers can have an opportunity to know the staffs of HBCUs. How would you do that? Take an existing relationship and nurture it into a major opportunity. The Alabama A&M project and the others have that potential.
“We’re looking for other research opportunities. The Small Business Program Office or the Office of University and Science Education can put researchers in touch with schools. In our office, David Mabry, 241-1163, is the point of contact for HMBC/MEI subcontracting.
“It could mean more research dollars for the Lab,” Minter says. “It just makes good business sense.”—B.C.