Scientists at Texas Tech Launch H.U.M.S. Project
The Arts and Sciences Department at Texas Tech University has launched a unique and exciting project this year requiring the combined brain power of five Ph.D. attaining scholars and a mobile home.
Heading up the project, and the participants of a recent interview about this new project, are Brian Ancell, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Atmospheric Science in the Department of Geosciences, and Carol Lindquist, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Practice in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work.
What do an atmospheric scientist, a sociologist, and a mobile home company have in common?
The dream of greater sustainability and affordability for the middle-class market in America.
Only, for these Texas Tech professors, the dream goes beyond the face of home ownership and into the sustainable use of resources needed to live in a home. Add in a mechanical and civil engineer and a biologist, and that dream almost begins to seem attainable.
And thus, H.U.M.S. was born.
What is H.U.M.S?
The H.U.M.S.—Home Utility Management System—is essentially a complete resource system designed to harness natural resources, both monitoring their future availability compared to their current level of storage and then making suggestions to a home owner’s routine that will allow the resources they’ve acquired to sustain them until more of the utilities are harvested.
The H.U.M.S test home, a manufactured home purchased through Braustin, will be equipped with solar panels and wind turbine on the roof, as well as a water collection system with a holding tank capacity of at least 5,000 gallons.
While the sun is shining bright and wind is blowing well during the day, the naturally produced power will run appliances and other common energy consuming components of a normal household. At the same time, back up batteries will be charged for use at night or on cloudy days.
The water will be collected through rain run-off from the roof and stored in the tank. Also included will be a gray water tank. Water from the showers and sinks can then be used for irrigation purposes, whether to water the grass or a garden. If the water is not needed, a line will be run to allow the water to simply drain out of the way. Responsible for this component of H.U.M.S. is Ken Rainwater, Ph.D., P.E., BCEE, D.WRE, CFM, Professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Construction Engineering.
All of these systems will be hooked into the “brain” of the project where home owners can view the current status of their resources and consider suggestions for continual sustainability through periods of drought, low wind, or weak sunlight.
“I am a modeler that runs atmospheric models to predict the weather at fairly high resolution. So what I do is I work with probabilistic forecasts… I’ll run say a hundred forecasts at the same time that all have something different about them, like their initial conditions and something like that. When we run all those forecasts we have an idea of the range of possibilities that can happen in one forecast… [A]ll my research really focuses on… getting a really good probabilistic estimate of the forecast,” Dr. Ancell says, elaborating on his focus in the research.
Heading up the design and integration of the technology to include weather prediction, resource suggestions, and resource availability is Bebei Ren, Ph.D., Department of Mechanical Engineering.
The H.U.M.S. Experiment
With an end goal of offering this system as an affordable utility option for middle class homeowners, strenuous testing will need to be done to streamline the product and confirm its compatibility with normal life.
To accomplish this, a couple will live in the test H.U.M.S. home located at the Texas Tech University Center at Junction, under supervision of Tom Arsuffi, Ph.D., Director of the Llano River Field Station. The test couples will follow their normal way of life while interacting with H.U.M.S. and following its suggestions for conservation and use of the stored resources.
Dr. Lindquist, and Nadia Y. Flores-Yeffal, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Sociology, will analyze the testimony of the residents as well as observe their daily activities in person about once a month.
“The aim of the study is to ensure that the H.U.M.S. fits into what’s called, I guess euphemistically, an ‘American way of life’,” says Dr. Lindquist when commenting on the role of sociology in the research, “so we’re not trying to make people crunchy more than they want to be. But it’s a way to make the change that’s needed for husbanding the resources that we have—as painlessly as possible,” she finishes.
The idea of solar panels and windmills may not seem completely unique, but the difference hoping to be achieved with H.U.M.S. is accessibility.
Off-grid systems do exist but cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Not only that, but these systems are not what Dr. Ancell would consider “utility complete”. Meaning each component is separate and not linked up to software analyzing data for each resource and are commonly focused on power rather than both power and water.
Combining the management of these utilities with the use of a high-tech and multi-faceted weather report and observations of human behavior would seem to make this a promising tool for harnessing renewable, grid-independent resources.
“These resources are free for the taking, we just need the equipment to make them available,” says Dr. Lindquist.
Community Benefit from Natural Resources
As discussion of this project progressed, the team began to see that homes set up with the ability to capture and utilize these natural resources were beneficial to more than just the individual and the environment, but to communities as well.
“These houses are very useful in terms of disaster relief in that they provide a level of relief in communities that are impacted by disaster where the grid is down,” Dr. Lindquist says.
With a home set up to run without need of a centralized power grid and city connected water, H.U.M.S. home owners could offer a place for a hot shower or even a power outlet for charging a cell phone.
“We don’t need heavy duty generators that need gasoline and make a lot of noise. It’s a much more user-friendly kind of way to do stuff,” continues Dr. Lindquist.
Most homes set up for off-grid living are out in the mountains or deep in the country, making their impact on the environment very positive, but not affecting much of a larger community. Producing a system that could be affordable by the larger population in cities and neighborhoods would mean less displacement and greater stability in the aftermath of disaster.
“As much as your home has walls, your home should have its own ability to give you power and water,” says Dr. Ancell.
What is Most Exciting About H.U.M.S?
“I’m really excited to see this thing go mainstream. And I think for me that’s the most exciting is seeing a system that can be utility complete and affordable and mainstream,” remarks Dr. Ancell, again showing his passion for sustainability as an accessible goal for the larger scope of the population.
Dr. Lindquist again emphasizes the large capacity for positive impact during community grid outages and the amazing opportunity for local support during those times. “We didn’t actually discover all the aspects of this until we’d really gotten into it. It turns out to be incredibly multi-faceted,” says Dr. Lindquist, “It’s not just academic appeal. It’s actual hands on, 3D, let’s change lives kind of thing.”
When Will the Project Begin?
“We’re still on a rain delay. The home getting delivered is essentially the first piece. And then we have to integrate the electrical and water into that,” says Dr. Ancell. Once the home is delivered, the solar, wind, and water collection systems installed, then the data collection will need to be programmed and tested. All in all, a realistic timeline will be Summer of 2019 for the first test couple to move into the home.
A grand opening ceremony will be held once the home is completed, but before the first test couple moves in.
A Step Forward for the Future
As more progress is made in living sustainably and more efforts are put into accessibility, real and positive impact will be seen for the under-represented, yet most abundant, portion of the population—the middle class.
The option for sustainable living combined with the push for alternative, affordable housing looks promising as the way to a brighter future.