Test facility aims to speed time to market for innovative construction materials

Low carbon construction materials can now be put to the test in open-air conditions with the opening of a new test facility at the University of Bath’s Building Research Park in the UK.

Material will be able to be tested for properties such as flood resilience in real world conditions.

The HIVE test facility will enable new building materials and systems developed in laboratories to be evaluated at full scale in a ready-built open air environment, speeding time to market for innovative materials.

Parameters that can be tested include their energy efficiency, flood resilience, structural capability and internal air quality.

The building has eight individual cells which are 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 u-value assessments currently used in building regulations.

The HIVE is a pioneering site that will allow industry to develop future energy-efficient construction materials and systems faster.

Professor Jane Millar, pro-vice-chancellor for research 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 £1m HIVE is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). The Science Museum – which has a storage facility there – is leasing the land to the University at a peppercorn rent in order to further encourage the development of sustainable construction materials.

Lesley Thompson, EPSRC’s Director of Science and Engineering, said: “Our investment in the HIVE will allow researchers to study the carbon emissions and environmental impact of construction materials and will make a real difference to the future of construction both in the UK and worldwide. This grant fits alongside a number of other strategic investments we have made in research and training in civil engineering, and these align strongly with the Government’s Industrial Strategy for the construction sector.”

Some of the research already underway includes:

  • Testing the thermal and acoustic performance of double skin facades, along with the performance of different window types and acoustic ventilators with Mach Acoustics to help increase use of low impact natural ventilation.
  • Fabricated, pre-dried, hemp-lime panels in open air buildings – contrasting thermal performance with wood fibre, mineral wool and other materials – part of the EU-funded HEMPSEC project.
  • Understanding how effective wall panels are at addressing poor air quality, for instance by absorbing VOCs and other pollutants with EU-funded ECOSEE project.
  • Testing the flood resilience and structural integrity of timber walls – to help flood proof future homes.

Alongside a material’s hygrothermal and environmental performance, buildability and durability, researchers can evaluate the internal environment that construction materials create. 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.