FORT DRUM, N.Y. — Fort Drum is the site of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project that will test a new high-performance insulation technology for buildings designed to retain heat indoors more effectively and with greater cost savings.

Energy loss — specifically, wall-related heat loss — is estimated to cost the U.S. Department of Defense about $200 million annually and accounts for 5 percent of total energy cost in military facilities. The Fort Drum Energy Branch is working with the Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL), a research lab within the Army Corps of Engineers, to conduct an energy-efficiency project using two military buildings.

Tapan Patel, CERL project manager, was on post to observe and assist with installing the new insulation. He said the objective of this research is to demonstrate and validate the energy and cost performance of a high-performance insulation technology called modified atmosphere insulation (MAI).

“MAI represents a new generation of advanced thermal insulation with the performance of silica-based vacuum insulation panels and significantly reduced cost,” Patel said. “This technology has great potential benefit for the Army and the DOD.”

CERL is part of the Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) and is working with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and NanoPore Inc. on this project.

The MAI panels were installed on the exterior side of the walls of the test building and then covered with metal siding by a crew from Fort Drum Public Works’ Carpentry and Electrical Shop.

“The two buildings being used for this project are both identical in features, size, construction, age, and type of equipment, so we can monitor the energy use of both the test and baseline building,” said Steve Rowley, Fort Drum Energy Branch manager. “They were originally used as arms rooms but are now being occupied by the safety office for training.”

An exterior retrofit allows for easier access and installation, with minimal disturbance to the interior of the building. It required a certain amount of caution not to damage the vacuum-sealed panels as they were attached to the walls.

“If the panels were punctured it would lose its vacuum, which provides a lot of the R-value,” Patel said. R-value is how insulating material is rated for thermal resistance — the higher the number, the greater the effectiveness.

“The use of MAI can significantly increase the thermal resistance of walls with a marginal increase in wall thickness, making it an ideal candidate for retrofit installation,” Patel said.

The modified atmosphere insulation has an R-rating of 38 per inch, while the original wall material measured an R-19 value with six inches of fiberglass. Every inch of the MAI is equivalent to 17 inches of the fiberglass insulation.

“And that’s why we call this super insulation,” Rowley said.

“Which is also one of the reasons why you can easily install this to the outside of the building,” Patel added. “Imagine if we had to extend the building 17 inches all the way around.”

The test building and control building will be monitored for a year to cover the range of heating and cooling conditions for side-by-side comparisons. Temperature, heat flux and humidity sensors and instrumentation were installed in July, and they will be remotely monitored from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. The team also conducted preliminary blower door tests to determine the air tightness of the building and infrared scanning to show any thermal defects in the panels.

“We’ll come back in late February or March to do the IR imaging again,” Patel said. “There may be variables outside our control that could cause the panels to fail through the course of the winter.”

The project is funded by the DOD’s Environmental Security Technology Certification Program, headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia. Travis Michaelke, an Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP) representative, was on site during the installation.

“I think this is a fantastic technology,” he said. “It’s fairly benign and essentially passive to where, once it’s installed, there’s really no operational maintenance required. The technology is really a step change, because the insulation is only an inch thick but you’re getting so much more out of this than what is inside the building already.”

While they continue to collect data and develop a test plan in the next several months, Patel said they will also conduct outreach activities to share knowledge of this technology across the DOD.

“One way of doing this is by presenting our work at conferences,” Patel said. “Once we have some data and we are able to draw conclusions, we’ll present our work in front of other engineers.”

Rowley said there is a long history of Fort Drum supporting DOD research. “Fort Drum is once again in the forefront of facilitating the Army’s research and development program,” he said. “I think this one has the potential to make a lot of difference. The better insulation you have, the smaller the heating system and the less fuel you need to use. So you’re better off putting your money into better insulation than bigger heaters.”

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Publication date: 11/26/2015

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