The panel was unveiled during Greenbuild 2009 in Phoenix, and will now transition into field trials to determine how it can be best utilized in residential settings. National Gypsum will rely on California’s Emerging Technologies Coordinating Council as well as the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to select and coordinate trial sites and to evaluate test data.

“We expect to see that ThermalCORE can decrease the heating and cooling energy required to keep a home comfortable during peak demand when combined with other advanced energy-efficiency technologies,” said Mundise Mortimer, manager of technical marketing for National Gypsum. “The field trials will allow us to evaluate the panel’s impact on the indoor climate and demonstrate how it can be used with other energy-saving strategies to improve indoor comfort and potentially reduce energy consumption.”

The U.S. Energy Information Agency estimates buildings currently consume more than 70% of the electrical power generated nationwide. What’s more, the Department of Energy calculates 60% of a building’s energy use, including heating, cooling, lighting and ventilation, relates to its enclosure.

“A number of initiatives ranging from the Department of Energy’s Building America program to the AIA’s 2030 Challenge have established specific goals for reducing energy consumption within residential and commercial structures,” said Mortimer. “Achieving these goals will require integrating advanced building materials with new construction techniques to create more energy-efficient building solutions.”

“As the standards and measures associated with sustainable design continue to evolve, so too will the building enclosure,” said Jennifer Willson, manager of innovation and product development for National Gypsum. “We want to be involved in that process by developing products that play a role in improving buildings’ energy efficiency. Technologies such as phase change materials provide new opportunities, and the field trials will enable us to further refine ThermalCORE’s performance characteristics and determine its optimum heat storage potential and most effective placement in the home.”

ThermalCORE is unlike traditional gypsum board in that its core contains Micronal PCM, a microencapsulated high-purity paraffin wax phase change material from BASF. This material changes phase from solid to liquid when it reaches 73° F, absorbing thermal energy to help moderate a room’s temperature, similar to an ice cube melting and absorbing heat to keep a drink cool. Micronal PCM is unlike ice, however, in that it melts at a much higher temperature and is contained within virtually indestructible microscopic acrylic capsules that prevent the wax from leaking as it changes phase. When temperatures fall, the wax solidifies and releases heat. This alternating process of melting and solidifying allows ThermalCORE to absorb daytime temperature peaks, ideally providing a more consistent room temperature.

A new use for a proven concept:

Builders and architects have long known that thermal mass contributes to improved energy performance, but to date have had to rely on concrete, brick or thick plaster walls to achieve it. ThermalCORE provides a solution using lightweight construction, making the concept of thermal mass to moderate indoor air temperature a novel design option for residential construction and remodeling projects.

“Micronal PCM is a phase change technology that has been proven to save energy and maintain its integrity and effectiveness over tens of thousands of cycles in a variety of building materials,” said Joseph C. Breunig, executive vice president of BASF. “For the first time, a U.S. manufacturer has effectively incorporated this technology into a wall panel. We’re pleased and excited to partner with National Gypsum as it pursues greater innovation in wall systems.”

Preliminary tests indicate ThermalCORE can store about 22 BTUs of thermal energy per square foot. The panel’s performance, value and cost will be further evaluated in the coming year. The majority of the trials will happen in California, where temperatures can vary greatly from day to night, and will target high efficiency homes. Testing will take place in cooperation with the Emerging Technologies Coordinating Council.

“California is home to some of the most stringent energy efficiency standards in the country and its utilities are aggressively pursuing cost effective, reliable and sustainable efficiency opportunities,” said Gregg Ander, chief architect for Southern California Edison, a member organization of the Council. “Phase change materials are an example of a building science innovation which can increase thermal comfort and reduce energy needs. We expect efforts like this will foster other innovations and collaboration across a number of categories to help identify how different building materials technologies interact.”

“We’re developing advanced building systems and building science to reduce risks and accelerate the introduction of new energy systems that can reduce the amount of energy consumed in our nation’s buildings without increasing overall building operating costs,” said Ren Anderson, group leader, residential research for NREL’s Center for Electricity, Resources and Buildings Systems Integration. “NREL partners with a variety of builders, developers and energy-efficiency projects nationwide and has agreed to review system performance data and provide technical input on the field trials.”

“We can now offer a solution that provides an active performance benefit throughout a building’s life cycle,” said Mortimer. “We expect the ThermalCORE field trials will stimulate interest in phase change technologies for building materials and help architects and engineers evaluate how different building materials and techniques are best combined to improve energy efficiency.”