A compact vacuum insulation panel comprising a chamber enclosed by two sheets of metal, glass-like spaces disposed in the chamber between the sidewalls, and a high-grade vacuum in the chamber includes apparatus and methods for enabling and disabling, or turning "on" and "off" the thermal insulating capability of the panel. One type of enabling and disabling apparatus and method includes a metal hydride for releasing hydrogen gas into the chamber in response to heat, and a hydrogen grate between the metal hydride and the chamber for selectively preventing and allowing return of the hydrogen gas to the metal hydride. Another type of enabling and disabling apparatus and method includes a variable emissivity coating on the sheets of metal in which the emissivity is controllably variable by heat or electricity. Still another type of enabling and disabling apparatus and method includes metal-to-metal contact devices that can be actuated to establish or break metal-to-metal heat paths or thermal short circuits between the metal sidewalls.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
1. Contractual Origin of the Invention
The United States Government has rights in this invention under Contract No. DE-AC02-83CH10093 between the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a Division of Midwest Research Institute.