Profs POSH pad proves itself worthy

first_imgShareCONTACT: Mike WilliamsPHONE: 713-348-6728EMAIL: [email protected]’s P.O.S.H. pad proves itself worthyRice University engineering students create portable, solar-powered emergency shelter Rice University engineering students have constructed a portable disaster-relief shelter on campus, and their adviser was so confident in their work that he moved in. Weeks before his impending wedding, Brent Houchens, an assistant professor in mechanical engineering and materials science, lived in the Portable Off-grid Sustainable Habitat (P.O.S.H.), a boxy little building crowned by six solar cells. Houchens took up residence May 4 and stayed for a week to test the structure’s systems and basic functionality. “It’s been great to live in,” Houchens said on day five. “It’s been really comfortable at night. I actually had to turn the air conditioning down a little this morning because it got too cool.”Five Rice senior mechanical engineering students — Matthew Sorenson, Young Suk Jo, Jeroune Rhodes, Stephanie Vu and Tomas Lafferriere — and junior observer Michael Heisel built the prototype shelter just outside the lab where they cooked up the idea, Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen. The students designed the building for disaster relief and use in developing countries as their capstone design project. With about 140 square feet of living space, the shelter is remarkable both for what it contains and for how well it should travel. The modular building has a “wet core” that contains a toilet, a shower and filtration for clean water. Up to 75 gallons of water, enough to sustain two people for three weeks, is stored both above the shower and in an external tank. The house is designed to support eight solar panels. The six 230-watt panels in the current house power an air conditioner, LED lights and small appliances; a bank of batteries stores energy for up to two days if the sun isn’t shining. Students designed the shelter to house two adults comfortably for six months to a year, if necessary, completely off-grid. A second module built around the same wet core could house a larger family, Houchens said.The shelter, with amenities, collapses into itself for travel. The two-wheeled, 3 1/2-by-3 1/2-by-6-foot boxes are small enough that six complete P.O.S.H. units would fit into a standard shipping container. Team members say two people should be able to assemble the shelter in a day with standard hand tools. Instructions are included.“I don’t think a lot of people expected us to finish the whole house by the end of the year, so our team is extremely proud that we were able to get it operational,” Sorenson said. The project began last fall.The team got design help from lead sponsor NASA, which has a strong interest in portable habitats. “The team visited the Habitat Demonstration Unit facility at Johnson Space Center a month ago,” Houchens said. “NASA engineer Mike Ewert helped us scope out what was and wasn’t possible and a good packing ratio to shoot for at the beginning of the project, and continued to advise us throughout.”Team members, who are available for interviews after commencement May 14, will deconstruct P.O.S.H. next week, with Houchens filming and timing the disassembly for future demonstration purposes. “After that, it will become a research platform that I’ll tie in to the thermodynamics class I teach in the spring,” he said. “We’ll do comparative studies on different types of insulation and energy efficiencies.”Houchens sees real-world potential for such a shelter with polymer walls and air-gap or foam insulation replacing the prototype’s half-inch plywood. “The long-term hope is that somebody will take this to the manufacturing level, clean up the rough edges and gain thermal efficiency and cost reduction at the same packing size. I think it’s possible.”In the meantime, while preparing for his wedding, Houchens enjoyed what turned out to be his last bachelor pad. “I’d need all the solar panels to run a plasma TV, but that wouldn’t be very energy-efficient,” he said. “Still, I’d like to keep it.”-30-A video tour of the Portable Off-grid Sustainable Habitat (P.O.S.H.) is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Me-9IkX0poDownload a high-resolution photo of the team at http://www.media.rice.edu/images/media/NEWSRELS/0511_POSH.jpg CAPTIONSeniors at Rice University’s George R. Brown School of Engineering designed and built a sustainable emergency shelter for two that collapses into two compact containers for shipping. Members of Team P.O.S.H. are, clockwise from left, Jeroune Rhodes, Matthew Sorenson, Stephanie Vu, Tomas Lafferriere and Rice Professor Brent Houchins (seated). Missing from the photo is Young Suk Jo.(Credit Jeff Fitlow/Rice University) FacebookTwitterPrintEmailAddThislast_img read more