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ERDC’s Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory builds Climatic Chamber Facility

Published Oct. 8, 2020
The new Climatic Chamber Building will serve as a Material Evaluation Facility. Completion of this facility will provide a critical means to examine extreme cold weather environments under test conditions necessary to develop and validate Army field materiel which is required for soldier and unit readiness.

The new Climatic Chamber Building will serve as a Material Evaluation Facility. Completion of this facility will provide a critical means to examine extreme cold weather environments under test conditions necessary to develop and validate Army field materiel which is required for soldier and unit readiness.

HANOVER, N.H. –The U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) announced July 9, 2020, that the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL) was awarded an Unspecified Minor Military Construction Authority contract to build a Climatic Chamber Facility on the Hanover, New Hampshire, campus.

The Climatic Chamber Facility consists of a series of modular environmentally controlled chambers to support full-scale testing of military and civil works equipment and systems for use in extreme weather conditions. To meet current and emerging Department of Defense and National Science and Technology needs, CRREL is replacing a smaller 990-square-foot facility with the larger modular test-and-evaluation space, which includes rooms capable of not only maintaining a minus 50 C environment, but also simulating wind and precipitation events.

“Ice accumulation on transportation, infrastructure and communication assets creates significant challenges for U.S. military operations in cold environments and increases mission vulnerability in the Arctic,” said Dr. Emily Asenath-Smith, a CRREL research materials engineer program lead for ice adhesion. “The growing focus on Arctic military operations and multi-domain environments means the U.S. Army must stay on the forefront of cutting edge research in those interest areas.”

Asenath-Smith says that in the new climatic chamber, ice adhesion research will focus on transitioning ice mitigation strategies, including passive icing control methods, from laboratory scale to the field, thereby increasing safety and agility of cold regions operations.

The CRREL Campus Manager Terry Harwood says there are two basic parts to the climatic chamber: the first part is comprised of two heat exchangers; the second part is the computer that runs the heat exchangers.

“The first heat exchanger removes the heat from the chamber and the other dumps it to the outside,” said Harwood. “This is very similar to a refrigerator in your house. A compressible fluid is used to do this called a refrigerant.”

Harwood said the refrigerant is compressed outside of the building using a compressor; this heats the fluid up, but air is forced over the compressed fluid pipes that cools the refrigerant back down close to the outside temperature. The cooled and compressed fluid is then sent to the cold chamber where the pressure is released. This cools the fluid down well below the temperature inside the cold chamber.

“You can see this happen if you use cans of compressed air to clean your computer at home,” said Harwood. “The longer you squeeze the can thereby releasing pressure in the can, the colder the can gets.”

Because the temperature inside the chamber is warmer than the fluid, the fluid warms a bit and the chamber cools a bit; and the process continues. In a very short time, the chamber will have temperatures at minus 54 C.

“The second part, the computer that runs the heat exchangers, can be programmed to hold a certain temperature for a certain amount of time, then another temperature for another amount of time, then a third temperature for another amount of time.” continued Harwood.

For example, if there was an experiment to see how a truck performs in the arctic, the truck could be driven into the chamber, and tests could be performed to see whether the vehicle could be turned on at 0 C, -10 C, -20 C, -30 C, -40 C and -50 C.

“We can do the same thing with concrete mixtures, we can test how long different mixtures take to harden and cure at various temperatures,” said Harwood. “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must be able to construct things in any temperature on this planet, so we test various methods at the laboratory.”

Construction of the facility is scheduled to begin in November 2020, with an anticipated completion in December 2021. A ground-breaking ceremony for the new facility is planned for Oct. 16; ERDC will stream the event live on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ArmyERDC.

For more information on CRREL, visit https://www.erdc.usace.army.mil/Locations/CRREL/