Biomimetics may improve building materials

Reading University is hoping to reduce the impact of buildings on the environment by developing a new kind of façade that mimics biological skin.

The project, sponsored by engineering consultancy Buro Happold, will investigate how hybrid construction materials could help to regulate temperature, humidity and ventilation inside a building.

‘A lot of building façades traditionally have been quite dumb,’ said Dr Richard Bonser from Reading’s Technologies for Sustainable Built Environments (TSBE) Centre.

‘We often think of things such as glass walls in buildings. What we’re trying to do is create more intelligent materials that can be a bit smarter.

‘For example, with ventilation, is it possible to design a building façade that reacts to external and internal environments so you use less energy heating and cooling a building?’

The four-year project will start in October and will investigate a range of methods for reducing the impact of the buildings and making the materials more sustainable.

‘One of the lines of work we’ll be looking at is using biological models to try to get inspiration for new technologies, a discipline known as biomimetics,’ said Bonser.

‘We also want to think about how we can get combinations of materials working together in the building envelope.’

The research will also look at the possibility of transferring the technology to older buildings.

‘There’s great interest in retrofitting technologies to the building stock in order to improve the sustainability and prolong their useful life,’ added Bonser.

The research will be carried out through the TSBE, which was established last year with a £5.6m grant from the EPSRC to offer engineering doctorate studentships.

Buildings account for around 40 per cent of the UK’s carbon emissions, half of which come from non-domestic buildings, according to the Carbon Trust.