Blogger Themes

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Welsh research centre: Developing low-carbon building technologies

The Engineer
Dec 12, 2011

On the bright site: SBEC’s headquarters is a striking, green retrofitted warehouse. Source: The Engineer

The bright green façade of the Sustainable Building Envelope Centre (SBEC) certainly stands out next to the traditional industrial buildings that populate Deeside, North Wales. Among the steel works, gas turbines and paper mills, Tata Steel and its partners are turning cutting-edge research into innovative products that could help turn buildings into power stations.

Buildings account for around 40 per cent of carbon emissions in the UK, according to the Carbon Trust. The idea behind SBEC – a £6.5m joint venture between industry and academia and part funded by the Welsh government – is that buildings should be seen as a resource for energy, and that traditional materials such as steel can be used to harness this power.

"Roofs and walls are assets, and instead of leaking energy out they should be doing the reverse,’ said SBEC director Daniel Pillai. ’Because energy’s been very cheap in the past, we’ve behaved like fat mammals, gorging ourselves with a lot of energy just to keep ourselves warm. But the lizard is an illustration showing [that] if you’re smart you come out and lie in the sun and you don’t have to eat quite as much."

Employing 18 full-time staff at its retrofitted warehouse headquarters, SBEC’s role is to commercialise methods of using building materials to collect, store and release energy. One day we could see roof panels containing batteries with solar cells painted on top and LED lighting printed onto the ceiling below. And these technologies all have the potential to be made in Britain.

Some of this research comes from previous projects involving Tata and partners in another of the centre’s co-funders, Wales’s Low Carbon Research Institute. But there’s another dedicated programme that feeds directly into SBEC: the Sustainable Product Engineering Centre for Innovative Functional Industrial Coatings, also known as SPECIFIC.

Led by Swansea University, SPECIFIC’s role is to research technologies at an earlier stage of development than SBEC, with a focus on active coatings – paints that can do something such as capture or release energy or even purify water. The team has chosen 10 suggestions out of 200 possible coating ideas and plans to whittle these down to two or three to produce on a pilot line.

’Our work fits in very nicely in terms of a philosophy with SBEC,’ said SPECIFIC research director Prof David Worsley. ’While our remit is to produce these materials at a scale you can use them, SBEC has the enormous advantage that it can turn our flat sheets into potential components or items that you can put on a building to test them out.’ This makes it easier to demonstrate and explain to potential industry partners for feedback – a key part of the strategy for developing technologies.


Post a Comment