HIVE to create buzz in buildings research

Supplementary content information

man in hard hat and high-viz jacket working on constructing the wall of a building

Hemp panel

University of Bath

The UK’s first research facility designed specifically to test sustainable construction materials and systems at full-scale and in realistic, open-air conditions is being officially opened by the University of Bath’s Chancellor, HRH The Earl of Wessex, on Thursday 25 September.

The £1 million HIVE building, based at the University of Bath’s Building Research Park, Swindon, is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).  EPSRC supports the construction sector with nearly £197 million in research funding including postgraduate skills training at 13 EPSRC Centres for Doctoral Training.

Construction companies and research groups across the globe can use the HIVE to aid research into the future of low-impact construction materials. Researchers will be able to analyse the environmental impact of construction materials – including their energy efficiency, flood resilience, structural capability and internal air quality.

New building materials must be tested at full scale and in life-size environments, and it can take up to ten years between testing and adoption of new materials for use in real buildings. The HIVE overcomes these problems by offering a ‘plug and play’ facility with expertise to test and evaluate materials and systems. This will speed up time to market for innovative materials such as renewable, natural materials.

Lesley Thompson, EPSRC’s Director of Research, said: The research and training EPSRC supports aims to improve the resilience of the country’s infrastructure and the sustainability of civil engineering projects. The HIVE facility will provide a variety of realistic environments in which to test materials and construction methods. We look forward to hearing the results of the work here and seeing how those can be translated into the civil engineering sector.

The built environment is presently responsible for 50 per cent of all carbon dioxide emissions - making it the UK's largest single emitter.

Dr Mike Lawrence, Director of the Building Research Park said: Finding new, sustainable methods of construction - properly tested in a real building such as the HIVE - is essential if the UK is to lead the way in low carbon homes and meet challenging emissions targets.

The building has eight individual cells which are carefully constructed to be completely insulated from each other, each with a single face left exposed to the external environment. The faces are used to install walls made from a whole range of materials and construction systems, and the performance of these walls is evaluated in real life conditions - creating a more accurate picture of environmental performance than the assessments currently used in building regulations.

Commenting, Professor Jane Millar, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research at the University of Bath said: The HIVE is a pioneering site that will allow industry to develop future energy-efficient construction materials and systems faster, while strengthening the research capabilities of our BRE Centre for Innovative Construction Materials.

The HIVE will be able to evaluate a material’s hygrothermal and environmental performance, buildability and durability. The HIVE also features:

  • a hygrothermal cell to evaluate movement of heat and moisture through buildings, energy efficiency, air tightness and acoustic efficiency
  • a double height and width cell that can be used for flexible construction design, testing façades, internal walls and floors, together with a strong roof, allowing for load testing
  • a flood cell that can be used for testing the resistance of construction materials to high water levels or for testing technologies that resolve the effects of flood damage
  • a bladder cell that enables the testing of construction panels against horizontal loading such as wind load and geotechnical forces.

Alongside the HIVE 16 platforms will be available for researchers to construct pods of up to 125 metres cubed enabling flexible testing of construction systems and performance.

The Science Museum - which has a storage facility here - is leasing the land to the University at a peppercorn rent in order to encourage further encourage the development of sustainable construction materials.

Notes for Editors

  • EPSRC priorities for future research in this sector are sustainable and resilient infrastructure, building physics, water engineering and end use energy demand.
  • This investment is part of a series of strategic investments in Civil Engineering over the last two years.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK’s main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. EPSRC invests around £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone’s health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK.

University of Bath

We are one of the UK's leading universities, ranked number one in UK for student satisfaction in the 2013 National Student Survey (NSS) and in the top ten of all national league tables, including being named ‘Best Campus University’ in the Sunday Times Good University Guide 2014.

Our Mission is to deliver world class research and teaching, educating our students to become future leaders and innovators, and benefiting the wider population through our research, enterprise and influence. Our courses are innovative and interdisciplinary and we have an outstanding record of graduate employment. View a full list of the University's press releases or follow the University's latest news on Twitter.

Science Museum

The Science Museum’s Hempcrete facility at Wroughton airfield, Swindon, was designed as a radical new solution to protecting objects in storage, including horse-drawn carriages, fine art works, wooden ship models and paper archives. Many of these objects are sensitive to changing climate conditions such as light, heat and moisture so providing the right environment is essential to prevent deterioration. The solution was to create a zero-carbon storage building from hemp and lime – low carbon natural materials which provide temperature and humidity buffering and ensure that the museum’s collections are maintained for future generations. In 2013 the storage facility won both a Museum and Heritage Award and a Greenbuild Award in recognition of its sustainable design.

Reference: PN 72-14