Duncan’s research project progresses
“For every five houses built one house worth of material goes to landfill or incineration”
The partners at Sustainable Bio & Waste Resources for Construction (SB&WRC) research project have made significant progress towards the design and manufacture of the first insulation prototypes made from biobased and recycled materials.
The University of Brighton is one of the English partners of the SB&WRC project. Their deep involvement in alternative building technologies has led to impressive experiments and results that continue to inspire researchers and practitioners. Duncan, Dr. Ryan Woodard, Senior Research Fellow within the School of Environment and Technology, and Ben Bosence, an expert in building conservation are currently working together to create one of the insulation prototypes.
Duncan: “I’ve been interested in sustainable design since 1990 when I started my Masters in Architecture at The University of Brighton after thinking for some time I might change direction and work for Greenpeace instead. In 1994 I designed and built the RIBA’s ‘House of the Future’ with my partner Ian McKay. That experience allowed us to set up our own practice BBM and start teaching and researching at the University of Brighton. Since then we have focussed on projects testing ideas and concepts informing sustainable development; such as large projects as The Greenwich Millennium Village, or more modest in scale such as the UK’s first public building made of straw The Romney Warren Visitor’s Centre. By 2008 BBM felt we had enough projects focussed on utilising locally-grown organic non-toxic material that we had an exhibition at RIBA HQ called ‘Built Ecologies: turning landscape into architecture’. That was also the year we built ‘The House that Kevin Built’ (THTKB) where we were challenged to construct a A+ rated dwelling using as much grown material as possible. We were successful, and the ground floor of ‘THTKB’ now resides down with our Interreg partners at the University of Bath. So we have lots of experience in building with bio-based materials, and since designing and building the Waste House, lots of experience at building with so-called waste.”
Duncan, Ryan and Ben plan to use waste materials but why?
Dr. Ryan Woodard: “Globally we have a very inefficient system for managing waste. It is estimated that across the world recycling rates may be as low as 7% for industrial waste and 10% for municipal waste. In the EU27 it is projected that 60% of the waste generated is not being recycled, composted or reused – therefore valuable resources are being wasted.”
Through harnessing these materials we can extend their life and maximise their value. Similarly there are cost savings to be made through diverting them from final disposal and their use leads to a reduction in using virgin materials.
Duncan: “We know that the construction industry in the UK wastes approximately 20% of the material delivered to a building site. So for every five houses built, one house worth of material goes to landfill or incineration. So the wasteful use of materials is a big deal in the UK and in the construction industry in particular. Our Waste House proved that it is possible to construct a high performing (Passiv Haus levels of insulation and airtightness) building using these discarded material. Our current SB&WRC research continues this line of enquiry, but in a more focussed and (hopefully) commercially accessible manner. So we are currently looking at the potential for re-using discarded duvets (currently not re-used or even recycled in the UK) as insulation for housing.”
Material selection and sourcing
Ryan: “Our aim was to target the textile waste stream. Using our existing knowledge of problem textile waste streams the project team developed a short list of potential materials. This shortlist was presented to industry stakeholders who gave their feedback on each stream, and existing literature was also considered. Following this engagement the project team decided to focus on stuffed bedding products – duvets and pillows. Based on our research local authorities, waste companies and charities won’t accept this material for reuse due to health and safety concerns, and the majority is sent to disposal in landfill or Energy From Waste plants.
In terms of sourcing the material trials have already been undertaken with the kind assistance of Veolia to understand the levels and composition of stuffed bedding products being taken to the local Household Waste Recycling Site. In a week over 3,000 litres of bedding waste generated of which 75% was polyester/25% feathers. What was interesting, based only on visual inspection, was the apparent quality of the products entering the waste stream with over half of the material sampled seemingly in good condition and unsoiled. Duvets and pillows are designed for their thermal properties and therefore a seemingly obvious application would be to integrate them into insulation for buildings!”
Ben: “My role in this project is to test and prototype the materials selected by the design team at the University of Brighton. I will initially produce 8 mini-prototype insulation and cladding products that will be tested by other partners in the project. The best performing materials will then be developed into 2 large-scale prototypes made in our workshop. One will get installed at the Waste House in the campus of the University of Brighton for testing, and the other will go to the University of Bath for further tests.”
Duncan, Ryan and Ben are working with ESITC Caen who will initially test 8 prototypes and then select one for further development. This preferred prototype will then be sent to the University of Bath to be tested again for fire and other construction-focussed tests. Following those tests the final prototype will be built and installed on one of the external walls of our Waste House where digital monitors will ascertain the material’s ‘U’ value (ability to insulate) and prove (hopefully) that there will not be any problems with condensation.
To follow the project more closely, participate in the SB&WRC community on Construction21.