16 April 2019
Re-Badged Ecobuild Keeps Focus on Sustainable Construction Practices
Despite being reinvented as Futurebuild, the long-established Ecobuild, the UK's leading event for environmentally responsible real estate development, has stayed true to its founding principles, according to exhibitors and attendees.
When Ecobuild was founded in 2005, it was very much a niche event for those interested in built-environment green issues. It has since evolved into one of the biggest sustainability-focused events in the world, with a conference programme that attracts globally significant professionals and decision makers, while frequently providing a platform for discussions of controversial topics.
This year, the event has been integrated into the wider Futurebuild showcase, although the Ecobuild Conference still remains a distinct thread within the larger expo. In the case of the new headline event, the focus remains very much on sustainability and the development of a low carbon, circular economy using waste as a resource. Six individual hubs and the dedicated Waste Zone ringed the conference arena, each with its own presentation area, complete with dedicated seminar programmes and bespoke trade stands.
As ever, government subsidies and the associated legislation were among the key issues addressed at the event. The disastrous 2016 London Grenfell Tower fire and the related controversy over flammable external insulation panels led to The Building (Amendment) Regulations 2018, legislation that banned the use of combustible materials in the outside walls of high-rise residential property. As a consequence, all the major insulation suppliers at the expo had on offer fire-resistant solutions for cladding and suppressing fire penetration via ducts.
For its part, County Cavan-based Kingspan was showcasing its QuadCore technology, while Sheffield-based Ancon was promoting its fire-resistant range of supports and fixings. Copenhagen-headquartered Rockwool, meanwhile, set out to demonstrate its range of non-combustible insulation by inviting visitors to place their hand on a burner-heated panel.
With ducts for pipes and cabling, windows and ventilation all potential fire entry points, Rockwool has developed a range of solutions, including insulation materials, designed to char and expand in order to seal off all such potential hazards. According to the company, its products are suitable for both new buildings and retrofit.
Fire safety in open-plan layouts has also become something of an issue, with Berkshire-based Lumi-Plugin among the many to have a possible solution on offer. Its particular approach advocates the use of downlights, in conjunction with integrated Rapidrop concealed sprinkler heads and fire alarms, as an unobtrusive and cost-effective remedy.
Overall, lighting remained one of the key focal points of the event. While the widespread adoption of LED systems is seen as having dramatically reduced energy requirements, for many, a number of issues still need to be addressed, particularly with regard to off-grid environments.
A popular solution here was the use of low-powered integrated photovoltaic (PV) arrays. Just such a system was on offer from Shropshire-based OG2 Lighting, with its Global Light range said to comprise a fully independent off-grid exterior light facility. Outlining its ubiquity, Mark Hopkins, the Joint Managing Director of the company, said: "The system uses proximity sensors and an intelligent power-management system in order to optimise lighting during periods of low sun or high demand."
Moving on to the interior-lighting sector and Jim Ashley-Down, Managing Director of Baden-Württemberg-headquartered Waldmann Lighting, was keen to champion biophilic lighting. Introducing the concept, he said: "Essentially biophilic design is all about incorporating – or mimicking – nature within the built environment. Natural light, visual access to gardens and even pot plants and interior water features are all part of the concept, but artificial lighting also has a part to play.
"As natural light varies throughout the day in both colour and intensity, we try to mimic this variation automatically. The recent discovery of a new type of light sensor in the eye has suggested that lighting, in alignment with our natural circadian rhythms, is hugely important for our overall well-being."
As well as refinements to the conventional approach to lighting, there has also been a reassessment as to how best to deploy and reinvent one of the most ubiquitous of construction materials – concrete. Keen to challenge preconceptions about this much-maligned substance, Elaine Toogood, a Senior Architect with the London-based Concrete Centre, said: "Not only can traditional Portland Cement concrete now incorporate waste materials, such as fly ash, thereby reducing its carbon impact by 30%, but new forms of concrete, incorporating polymers, have been produced, many of which have greater strength and particular characteristics.
"There is even one form of concrete – available from New Jersey's Solidia Technologies – that's cured using warm CO2 from power station waste gases. This is said to reduce the material's carbon footprint by up to 70%."
Among the items showcased on the Concrete Centre stand were examples of 'bioreceptive' concrete, a material designed to promote micro-organic growth on facades. There was also self-monitoring 'smart' concrete, 3D-printed concrete, glass fibre reinforced concrete, light transmitting concrete (load-bearing but incorporating plastic or glass rods) and pollution-eating concrete (containing a range of photo-catalytic ingredients).
While the name of the event may have changed, one Ecobuild tradition was clearly being maintained – the prevalence of solar PV and solar thermal panel companies, even if their numbers and stand sizes were somewhat down on previous years. Overall, the focus here was on building integrated PV, notably the kind of unobtrusive systems that incorporate such features as sky lights.
One company looking to take a lead in the provision of low-visibility PV installations was Nottingham-based BS Specialist Products. Outlining its particular approach, Technical Director Paul Cropper said: "Our polymer-coated PV cells offer a discreet or almost invisible appearance and can be disguised as roofing tiles. They can be attached directly to the roof battens and trusses, forming part of the watertight covering."
Futurebuild 2019 took place from 5-7 March at London ExCeL.
Glenville Holmes, Special Correspondent, London