Building Research Park

For information and research conducted at the facility and its impact on the future of construction

Can we grow our way out of climate change?

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📥  construction, HIVE, Low carbon, low impact, Research

Dr Mike Lawrence is Director of the University of Bath’s Building Research Park (BRP)– aimed at reducing the carbon footprint of buildings. The following blog appeared on the Guardian Sustainable Business website on 25 September 2014 to coincide with the launch of the BRP's opening.

The Hive

So how can growing buildings help with climate change, you may ask? Well, it’s all about renewables and ‘sequestered carbon’. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skill’s 2010 report on Low Carbon Construction concluded that construction was responsible for some 300 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2­­) emissions, which is almost 47 per cent of the UK’s total emissions. Of this figure some 50 million tonnes is embodied into the fabric of buildings. It uses 1.46 tonnes of CO2 to make 1 tonne of steel and 198kg CO2 to make 1 tonne of reinforced concrete. One square metre of timber framed, hemp-lime wall (weighing 120kg), after allowing for the energy cost of transporting and assembling the materials actually stores 35.5kg of CO2.

If we can convert plants into building materials, we are in a win-win situation. Firstly, plants use the energy of the sun to convert atmospheric CO2 and water into hydrocarbons – the material that plants are made from. The plant acts as a carbon store, sequestering or ‘absorbing’ atmospheric CO2 for as long as the plant continues to exist. This CO2 is only re-released when the material is composted or burnt, and the great thing is that through replanting it you can re-absorb this CO2 annually, in the case of straw or hemp, or every decade or so in the case of timber, rather than the 300 million years that it takes to recycle coal or oil.

Secondly, plant based materials can be used to make high performing building envelopes, protecting against external weather and  making a building more comfortable, healthy and energy efficient to live in.

Not only can they be used as insulation materials, displacing oil-based alternatives such as polyurethane foam, but they also interact with the internal environment in a way that inorganic materials just can’t do. This is because they are ‘vapour active’. Insulating materials such as hemp-lime, hemp fibre and wood fibre are capable of adsorbing and releasing water vapour. This is doubly effective, because not only can they act as a buffer to humidity (taking moisture out of the air), but they also stabilise a building’s internal temperature much better through latent heat effects (energy consumed and released during evaporation and condensation within the pores of the material).

To build using hemp, the woody core or shiv of the industrial hemp plant is mixed with a specially developed lime-based binder. Factory-constructed panels are pre-dried and when assembled in a timber frame building, the hemp shiv traps air in the walls, providing a strong barrier to heat loss.  The hemp itself is porous, making the walls well insulated while the lime-based binder sticks together and protects the hemp, making the building material resistant to fire and decay. As the industrial hemp plant takes in carbon dioxide as it grows, and the lime render absorbs even more of the climate change gas, hemp-lime buildings have an extremely low carbon footprint.

In this way bio-based materials can be used to construct ‘zero carbon’ buildings, ie. buildings where the materials have absorbed more CO2 than is consumed during construction. By applying PassivHaus principles (the voluntary industry standard for low-carbon design) to bio-based buildings, a building’s energy use once inhabited can also be reduced to minimal levels. This is a true ‘fabric first’ approach, where the fabric of buildings passively manages energy consumption, rather that purely relying on renewables such as solar panels and ground source heating systems which have a more limited life-span and have the potential for failure.

I worked on a project recently for the Science Museum to reduce the high energy cost of archival storage. They needed to have large enclosures kept at a steady humidity and temperature to ensure that items ranging from the first edition of Newton’s Principia through to horse drawn carriages and even Daleks do not deteriorate. Normally this uses energy intensive air conditioning systems.

The three storey archival store that the Science Museum built in 2012 using a hemp-lime envelope was so effective that they switched off all heating, cooling, and humidity control for over a year, maintaining steadier conditions than in their traditionally equipped stores, reducing emissions while saving a huge amount of energy.

In the BRE Centre for Innovative Construction Materials (BRE CICM) at the University of Bath we are working on some very exciting EU funded projects to increase the use of low carbon construction solutions. Research programmes aimed at producing certified construction systems using straw bale and hemp-lime respectively have potential to transform the construction industry in the UK, introducing such revolutionary sustainable products to the mainstream sector.

Other research we are carrying out is finding better ways to passively improve the internal air quality of buildings by using improved bio-based materials to interact with air borne pollutants, removing them from the building.

The new HIVE building - a £1m project funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) - acts as a platform for research projects of this type. The HIVE also has a purpose built flood cell, which will support research into creating buildings and building materials which are more flood-resilient – a valuable resource in these times of climate change induced adverse weather conditions.

In practice what this all means is that the industry and government now need to embrace the opportunities presented by bio-based construction materials to reduce emissions. Good quality domestic housing can be built out of structural timber with a bio-based insulating envelope such as the ModCell® system using straw; the HempCell® system using hemp-lime, or other  systems using wood fibre or other cellulose fibres.

With domestic housing high on the Government agenda, surely it is time the construction industry recognised the economic and environmental benefits of bio-based construction materials and became less reliant on depleting resources such as oil and steel.

Dr Mike Lawrence is Director of the Building Research Park, the University of Bath’s new research centre for sustainable construction materials and systems which opens on 25 September 2014.  Anyone interested in finding out more can contact , visit or follow @HiveBRP on Twitter.


HRH The Earl of Wessex to open the HIVE

📥  Building research, composite material, construction, façades, HIVE, Low carbon, low impact, Research, technology

brp-logo-blogHIVE logo

The University of Bath's Chancellor, HRH The Earl of Wessex will perform the opening ceremony for the HIVE at the launch of the University's Building Research Park (BRP), it has been announced. The event will take place on 25th September 2014 at the BRP, and will be attended by select guests from government, industry and academia.

The HIVE is a £1m research facility funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the University of Bath, offering ground-breaking research into low carbon, low environmental impact construction materials and methods. Dr Lesley Thompson, the EPSRC's Director of Sciences and Engineering, will be giving a keynote speech at the event on opportunity for research funding.

The Building Research Park is a facility offered in conjunction with the University of Bath's Building Research Establishment Centre for Innovative Construction Material (BRE CICM). Professor Peter Bonfield, Chief Executive of the BRE Group, will also give a keynote speech on the opportunity the facility offers to the construction industry.

After the ceremony, the Chancellor will take the opportunity to inspect the HIVE and the BRP, meeting with the HIVE research team, and other researchers who are planning to use the facilities. Guests from a large number of universities and research minded construction companies will be present, which offers the ideal opportunity to network and to begin to develop research and development programmes in collaboration with each other.


Topping out (Day 133)

📥  Building research, Civil Engineering, construction, HIVE, Uncategorized

HIVE investigators and Barnwood construction top out

HIVE Investigators and Barnwood Construction Top Out

The HIVE celebrates a momentus occasion as the building nears completion. This long awaited project coming to fruition promotes the ability for future research into construction materials and technologies. The facility, once complete in a few weeks time, will reduce the lead time for protyping materials to get them to market. The facility also offers the opportunity to investigate theories of structural and material performance of novel products, providing more reliable modeling for future design and build projects.  Mike Lawrence, Principal Investigator of the HIVE project, celebrates with a toast to the future of construction research.

The topping out ceremony was attended by representatives from the University of Bath, Barnwood Construction Ltd and Science Museum Group, Swindon.  Media representatives from the Swindon Advertiser and Swindon Link were also shown the facility prior to the official opening in September. Swindon Business News and Building4Change also promoted the event.

The ceremony marks an achievement in the construction project that has been in planning from August 2013. The design team also consisting of Integral Engineering Design and DM3 architect have worked hard over the last few months to understand the complex requirements of this test facility and are now being to see the fruition of their work.


HEMPSEC Project Build Complete

📥  Building research, insulation, Low carbon, low impact, Research, Uncategorized

HEMPSEC Pods Construction Reaches Completion

HEMPSEC Pods Construction Reaches Completion

One of the first construction research projects, HEMPSEC, has finished construction.The HEMPSEC project looks to compare different construction types of similar insulative value to discover the real life environment performance of this material in the Atlantic climate. The 5 pods constructed on the Building Research Park's platforms are made of different materials at the core but externally look identical.

A press release fom the University of Bath is one of many expected to be released from forthcoming projects anticipated at the Building Research Park. A brochure has been released to encourage other construction researchers to utilitise and realise the true potential of their research through this facility.


Opening Save the Date

📥  HIVE, Uncategorized

We are excited to announce the opening and launch date for the Building Research Park and HIVE. The invite-only event will take place on the 25 September 2014 at Wroughton Airfield.

BRP Savethedate

Start on the Hive construction project (Day 0)

📥  Civil Engineering, construction, HIVE, structural engineering

Point 1 web

After months of planning the build has now started, funded by the EPSRC grant. Barnwood Construction have setup the site perimeter and are on their way to building the HIVE test facility. Together with a design team of Integral Engineering Design, dm3 architecture, gleeds cost management and gleeds health and safety, the HIVE aims to test construction material in the open elements. The HIVE has been designed to test the energy efficiency of buildings materials, structural capability and flood resistance in order to research the future of construction materials in a realistic open air condition. The build is to be completed by 21st July 2014 when our team of researchers and technicians will move in to set up the experimental facilities ready for researching the future of low carbon low impact construction technologies.

Barnwood_C Integral dm3 


HIVE Design Team Formed

📥  architecture, Civil Engineering, construction, HIVE, structural engineering

The designs for the HIVE are to be finalized in the next few weeks, Director Dr Mike Lawrence is aiming to make the best of the opportunity to research environmental performance of construction material. Eve Walkden started this month as Project Manager of the HIVE and is overseeing the design team Integral Engineering Design and DM3a. The HIVE will facilitate the hygrothermal performance of construction material as well as incorporating the ability to test construction materials against environmental impacts such as flooding and wind load. The HIVE will be situated at the Science Museum's Storage facility in Wroughton where the open fields lend themselves to Atlantic climate conditions and thus testing the construction performance to outdoor weather extremes.


Building Research Park gets go ahead

📥  Building research, Civil Engineering, HIVE, Low carbon, low impact, Research, structural engineering

The  Building Research Park gets the go ahead. Dr Mike Lawrence of the University of Bath's Architecture and Civil Engineering Department has been awarded EPSRC funding to construct the HIVE, a unique building dedicated to the testing of construction materials in Atlantic Climate conditions. This facility will add to the facilities of the Building Research Establishment's Centre for Innovative Construction Materials, furthering current and future research projects.

The facility has been granted planning permission from Swindon Borough Council to be built at the Science Museum Group's Storage Facility in Wroughton. This ex-military airfield gives the building research park the best weather conditions that the UK climate can throw at it, allowing for construction material performance reviews in real conditions outside the standard laboratory regulations.

This facility aims to lead the future of construction material and technology through the research of energy efficient and environmental testing.  Collaborations with industry, researchers and international centres are being discussed, with future opportunities welcome.