Penn State Solar Decathlon team ready to make Natural Fusion a reality

University Park, Pa. — Natural fusion is what powers the sun, so it's fitting that Penn State's 2009 Solar Decathlon team — one of 20 nationwide that will compete in October on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. for the top solar-powered house — would dub its entry Natural Fusion. But for the Penn State team, the name is a concept aimed at building an energy-efficient home featuring the holistic integration of elements across all aspects from design to construction.

"Natural Fusion was born out of the idea of building an integrated house and using things that have been used for years but in a new way," said Thomas Rauch, team member and media liaison. "It's redefining the engineering and the cross-disciplinary educational and design processes."

The idea touches everything the team does. More than 120 team members from every academic college at Penn State, including students, staff and faculty, are working on the project. They work closely with industry to create the house and to implement the technologies that will make it energy-efficient and sustainable.

"Nothing is without a purpose or a reason," Rauch said. "There's a need for that kind of efficiency now. That's what Natural Fusion really focuses on -  making the most of what we have and really having a reason for everything we do."

Design began last year when Penn State was accepted to the Department of Energy-sponsored competition for the second time. (Penn State's MorningStar took fourth place in 2007.) The basic structure of the home — framed, roofed and drywalled — will arrive at the University Park campus this week from the team's modular builder in Middleburg, Pa., and a ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held at noon on Saturday at the construction site east of Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.

Then the team gets down to work on what makes the competition-maximum 800-square foot house special, installing the photovoltaic solar panel array, and all the other technologies and amenities that will create a solar-powered, energy-efficient and green home.

Rauch said the work of the team's architects and architectural engineers on the house's architectural design gives Natural Fusion an early advantage. The work of the Solar Decathlon team and its collaboration with industry, meanwhile, could very well change how the nation views solar-powered technology.

"We have a really great collaboration with industry where some of the products we're using have never been seen before," Rauch said, noting that the competition requires all products used in the houses be commercially available, but does not prohibit new technology from being unveiled for the first time. "In a couple of cases, nothing like them has been seen before. They're completely revolutionary ideas. Our work with industry has been absolutely instrumental."

Rauch said the ultimate goal is to produce a house that people will view as a realistic potential home.

"We're trying to show people this isn't just something cool you saw in Scientific American or Popular Mechanics," Rauch said. "It's something you can walk through and say, 'Wow, I could live here.' "

Rauch added that the team already has several residential, commercial and industrial offers to purchase the Natural Fusion competition house after the Solar Decathlon ends.

But for now, the Natural Fusion team is focused on the task at hand — getting the house completed and ready for transport to Washington for the competition in 10 categories (scored by measured performance and juror evaluation) and public display Oct. 8-18.

"It's very exciting, but it's a very daunting task," Rauch said, adding that the team encourages the Penn State community to make a visit to the Solar Decathlon in October and to help with the building process over the next few months. "There's a lot to get done."

For more information on Penn State's Solar Decathlon team, visit http://solar.psu.edu or contact Kyle Macht, team leader at kpm158@psu.edu.

For more on the Solar Decathlon, visit http://solardecathlon.org.

 

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Last Updated November 18, 2010