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UK researchers join Horizon Europe's bio-products development project

Words:
Stephen Cousins

University of Bath team joins 15 other partners in European project ‘Inbuilt’ to develop 10 natural and bio-based building materials

The University of Bath's Environment Chamber is helping test the performance of numerous bio-based materials
The University of Bath's Environment Chamber is helping test the performance of numerous bio-based materials Credit: University of Bath

UK researchers are part of a major European project to minimise the environmental impact of bio-based construction materials, including fungus-based insulation and prefab wall panels made from waste wood.

The University of Bath’s Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering is one of 16 partners involved in the £6.2 million Horizon Europe project Inbuilt, which has been set up to significantly reduce the whole life carbon footprint of buildings by introducing innovative products and systems.

The four-year initiative will aim to develop and demonstrate 10 natural construction materials, ranging from large-scale rammed earth blocks, hybrid straw-clay boards, and recycled concrete blocks and bricks, to waste wood wall elements, smart windows with recycled glass and bio-PUR frames, to recycled fibre insulation mats, and bio-based recycled insulation sheet panels.

Bath researchers will concentrate on characterising new materials and understanding their commercial and practical application, with a focus on carrying out life cycle assessments to understand and minimise the environmental footprint of each product.

Steve Allen, associate director of Bath’s Institute for Sustainability, is leading the University’s part of Inbuilt: ‘The critical thing is to consider as much of the life cycle as possible, and as many different types of environmental impact as possible, to ensure we get the overall footprint as low as possible,’ he said.

According to Allen, minimising an environmental footprint often requires manufacturers to source low-impact resources, such as material and energy inputs to manufacturing processes, and ‘to make processes as efficient as possible, maximise the durability of the product, and design for future recycling/reuse.’

Bath University's Department of Architecture and Engineering is one of 16 partners in the £6.2m Horizon Europe project Inbuilt
Bath University's Department of Architecture and Engineering is one of 16 partners in the £6.2m Horizon Europe project Inbuilt Credit: University of Bath

As part of the project, researchers will co-develop and optimise production processes to reduce the products’ environmental impacts.

Bath is working with mycelium-based product maker Mykor to investigate mycelium insulation using a range of bio-based substrates, with a focus on sourcing materials primarily from agricultural and construction waste streams. These include wheat straw, hemp, waste paper/cardboard and hard-to-treat waste streams, such as OSB.

‘The overall aim of this aspect of the work is to produce an entirely natural insulation material from largely waste material, with good mechanical properties and insulation performance equal to or better than common conventional materials such as rock wool,’ said Allen.

Inbuilt will test products on four demonstration buildings, to be built across Europe, one of which will be located at a yet to be disclosed location in the UK. The project will also consider how to renovate existing structures to ‘enhance productivity and competitiveness in the industry’.

BIM will form a key element of the approach. It will be used to streamline the construction projects’ entire lifecycle, from design to end-of-life and enhanced by integrated project delivery (IPD).

INBUILT is funded under the EU’s research and innovation programme Horizon Europe within the Built4People partnership.

 

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