Building Our container lab
Why build a lab out of containers?
Great question! This project is a large undertaking, and requires many skills. We decided to build our lab out of two 40′ x 8′ x 8′ shipping containers because we had agreed to let our lead engineer store some lab-equipment at our 40-acre property. He only needed one container to store everything, but since all of his equipment was going to be here, we figured it would be worth our while to make use of everything.
From environmental chambers, to oscilloscopes, logic analyzers to electronic loads, we are going to have a great area to test products such as (but not limited to) batteries, inverters, solar controllers, balancers, BMS units, and so much more.
What are your plans for the lab?
First thing first, we welded together the full length of the roof and floor where the two containers are next to each other. Then, we bought a plasma cutter and removed the wall between the two containers, ground down all the rough edges, and started to frame in everything with 2×4’s and insulation. At first we hit a roadblock because due to low interest rates, the pandemic, and other factors, something as simple as 7/16″ OSB plywood went from $8-$11 per sheet all the way up to $33/sheet! This was outrageous so we decided to hold off for some time until lumber prices evened out.
Since on the 40 acre property, we are 100% off the grid, we would like to build a solar array on the roof of the lab to offset the power demand of the equipment we are using. Our original thought is to put 48 panels on the roof, in 4 strings of 12, connected to a Sol-Ark 12k Inverter, and “gird-tie” that on our microgrid into our main electrical system that also utilizes a Sol-Ark 12k. This should work out perfectly, because California Rule 21 creates a standard that allows the main inverter in the electrical room to taper back the power being put onto the microgrid by the sol-ark in the lab. We were thinking of having transfer switches on the solar array, that could re-divert power to some testing leads that could then be fed into various different equipment being tested. Say we wanted to test an Outback Flexmax 80 solar charge controller – it would be nice to be able to re-configure the solar array in such a way that we now have a perfect input for that test!
For heating and cooling this lab, we have a few ideas – one of which is either a two-head mini-split or two separate mini-split units. Since in winter time solar photovoltaic production is not at its peak, we are also considering purchasing a heater that burns diesel fuel. On the 40 acre property, we have a large off-road diesel fuel supply for our tractors and generator, so utilizing the infrastructure we already have is optimal.