29 October 2013

Modern buildings have been developed to be airtight, improving their energy efficiency and reducing their carbon footprint. Unfortunately, these sealed environments have created unexpected side effects.

Research has shown that a build-up of potentially harmful chemicals in the air can potentially cause negative impacts on the well-being of occupants.

The "Eco-See" project, which has received €6.55 million funding from the EU's R&D Framework Programme, studies the use of innovative eco-building materials that will combat poor indoor environmental quality, while still improving the energy efficiency of buildings.

Leading the project, Professor Pete Walker from Bath University's Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering, said: "The European Union aims to ensure that all new buildings will be zero carbon. However, we need to find ways of achieving this without negatively impacting on occupant well-being."

The research project will look at ways to combat the build-up of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can be harmful when they build-up at higher concentrations.

VOCs can be both artificial and naturally occurring, and are released into the air from many different sources including cleaning products, furniture, adhesives, carpets and paints.

The research will look at the use of bio-based insulation materials, such as sheep’s wool and hemp, some of which have been proven to draw VOCs out of the air and store them.

The researchers will develop highly insulated wall panels, treated using novel chemical processes to enhance the capacity of building materials to capture the VOCs.

The objective of the project is to deliver products with at least 15% lower embodied energy than traditional construction materials, with at least 20% longer expected lifespan and for at least 20% lower build costs.