Houses under construction.

Academics to help develop building materials that generate power as part of £36m government-funded project

Three Loughborough University academics have received research funding as part of a £36m project that looks to accelerate market adoption of new solar-powered building design.

Professor Kevin Lomas, Professor Michael Walls and Professor Philip Eames have been awarded more than £1m in total to conduct three different strands of research under the Active Building Centre (ABC) – a multi-million pound project being led by Swansea University that was given the green light last month by the Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond.

Funded by the UK government - through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund and UKRI - and based in Swansea University, ABC will be a national centre of excellence working with supply chains from energy and construction supported by 10 universities, including Loughborough.

The ABC vision is to transform the UK construction and energy sectors, through the deployment of buildings powered by the sun to create energy resilient communities and to contribute to electric vehicle and decarbonisation targets.

UK buildings now account for around 40% of our energy consumption and associated carbon emissions, yet the way we create and operate buildings has not changed. They are still consumers of energy – but they could be energy positive.

ABC will focus on developing materials that use heat and light to make electricity and on ways of storing energy and releasing it through ‘smart energy systems’. New technologies and methods of construction will enable the cost-effective production of highly energy efficient walls, roofs and windows.

Active buildings can save money on energy bills and contribute to a more sustainable world. They can, for example, combine the use of solar cells and battery storage to draw solar-heated air into buildings and are also able to use ground source heating to provide warmth in the winter.

Pictured is a solar panel.

ABC will focus on developing materials that use heat and light to make electricity.  

Professor Lomas, of the School of Architecture, Building and Civil Engineering, is Loughborough’s Building Environment Beacon Lead and is leading the University’s involvement in the project, which is to span the next three-and-a-half years.

He will look at energy efficiency in houses and other buildings and will use modelling to examine different building types, materials, insulation and photovoltaic (PV) systems – which convert light to energy – and their effect on heat and electricity requirements.

Professor Walls, of the Centre for Renewable Energy Systems Technology  (CREST) in the School of Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering, is focusing on integrating PV materials into components like roof tiles so homes can be constructed with solar technology already built-in, meaning there will be no need for bolt-on panels.  

The Director of CREST, Professor Eames, is to explore heat supply and thermal technologies, in particular, the role of phase-change materials, which store and release thermal energy in order to maintain a regulated temperature and have the ability to store much more energy than conventional water-based thermal stores.

Working together, the Loughborough academics will employ three researchers, who will collaborate with other Midlands universities – such as Birmingham and Nottingham – that are members of the Energy Research Accelerator partnership.

Commenting on the project, Professor Lomas said: “This is a terrific opportunity to become part of a new wave of thinking about how to make deep cuts in the greenhouse gas emissions from buildings whilst simultaneously reducing energy demand and construction costs, and creating new business opportunities.

“The research requires the world-class cutting-edge modelling, measurement and manufacturing capability available at Loughborough.”

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 18/144

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It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2018 QS World University Rankings, top in the country for its student experience in the 2018 THE Student Experience Survey and named University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2019 and the Whatuni Student Choice Awards 2018.

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Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund

The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund aims to bring together the UK’s world-leading research with business to meet the major industrial and societal challenges of our time. The fund was created to provide funding and support to UK businesses and researchers, part of the government’s £4.7 billion increase in research and development over the next 4 years. It was designed to ensure that research and innovation takes centre stage in the Government’s modern Industrial Strategy. It is run by UK Research and Innovation.

UK Research and Innovation

UK Research and Innovation is a new body which works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish. We aim to maximise the contribution of each of our component parts, working individually and collectively. We work with our many partners to benefit everyone through knowledge, talent and ideas. Operating across the whole of the UK with a combined budget of more than £6 billion, UK Research and Innovation brings together the seven Research Councils, Innovate UK and a new organisation, Research England.