Buildings as powerhouses

by Tania Wannenburg
Buildings as powerhouses

While celebrating 150 years, BASF is looking to address future challenges through collaboration.

BASF’s 150 years of existence is awash with many remarkable achievements and the company is further building on its legacy by taking an in-depth look at the challenges of the future and innovation processes through the establishing of its anniversary Creator Space™ programme.

With most of the recent innovations being largely driven by the threat of climate change, business and academia are pulling together to forge a new urban landscape where buildings become the powerhouses of the future.

The challenge of creating a world where myriad technologies replace fossil fuels and nuclear power, and where chemistry, biology, nanotechnology, material science and biomimicry fuse to create a living, interconnected city, is making the technology affordable and profitable on a large enough scale to really make a difference.

An industrial and academic consortium called SPECIFIC (Sustainable Product Engineering Centre for Innovative Functional Industrial Coatings), of which BASF is a partner, has been set up to bridge this gap between innovation and production, and has already made advancements.

Solar skins
One product is the transpired solar collector, which is capable of absorbing an average of 50%, and up to 75% in good conditions, of the solar energy that hits a building. Installed as an additional micro-perforated steel skin onto a wall or roof, it creates a cavity of heated air between the building’s surface and the metal skin. The heated air is drawn from the cavity and fed into the building, so that it can either be used to meet the building’s immediate energy needs or be stored for later.

Project partner, Tata Steel, produces steel for building warehouses, supermarkets and retail outlets in the United Kingdom. SPECIFIC estimates that if just 10% of the steel produced each year by Tata Steel had this smart coating, it could produce 10GW of power, or the equivalent of one nuclear power station’s annual energy output.

Green-facade buildings
The world’s first “bio-adaptive facade” house, known as the BIQ (Bio Intelligent Quotient) house, presents exciting new opportunities for architects and designers to break down barriers between the material and biological world.

The facade system is composed of bioreactors that trap micro-algae in water between two plates of glass. In sunlight, the micro-algae double their mass every seven hours through photosynthesis. In addition to creating natural shade, it also proved the house with solar thermal heat as well as energy that comes from harvesting the algae.

Smart building materials
Combining smart building materials, BASF and partners have built Brazil’s first energy-efficient house, CasaE, which consumes up to 70% less energy than a conventional house. It is a modern, elegant building, filled with light that creates bright, functional living spaces. And although it is situated in a busy part of São Paulo, thanks to acoustic insulation, the sounds of the outside world are completely shut out once the front door is closed.

Insulation plays a big role in producing these energy savings. BASF’s Neopor® expanded polystyrene insulation was used in the construction system, along with the rigid polyurethane foam Elastopor®. Inside the house, the walls contain Micronal® PCM (phase change materials), a material that absorbs and releases heat depending on the temperature – providing a form of air-conditioning without electricity.
Other new materials have helped to cut the amount of water used in the cement by 40%, while lowering CO₂ emissions during construction. Special paint pigments prevent solar radiation absorption, helping to keep the building’s temperature low. Other specifically created paints protect the building from the ravages of the tropical climate, making it resistant to the effects of sun, rain and humidity, and preventing the spread of algae and fungi.

What about existing buildings?
One cutting-edge development targeted at the domestic retrofit market is smart insulation. Over the past seven years, BASF has been working on a new form of insulating material, called SlentiteTM, which contains pores on a nanoscale.

Now at the pilot production stage, it is a pure polyurethane aerogel that has all the necessary strength and provides high efficiency insulation, while being between 25 to 50% thinner than an equivalent insulation. Its unique quality is its ability to absorb and release water vapour, regulating moisture inside the building.

While bioreactor facades, smart walls and roofs, and transpired solar collectors may still sound futuristic, if today’s entrepreneurs and academics are successful, an interconnected world where the home, workplace, car and school mimic a living organism by interacting naturally with the environment to collect energy harvested from homes by day and workplaces by night to be pumped to where it is most needed, may not be as far away as we think.

Tel: 011 203 2422
Website: www.basf.co.za

BASF’s Creator Space™

Following the model of social networks, BASF has developed Creator Space™, a virtual laboratory for new ideas in collaboration with others. The space is envisioned to be interactive in order to facilitate online discussions on the themes of urban living, smart energy and food. Anybody who wants to be involved in co-creating the future can contribute.

“Our aim with Creator Space™ is to open up room for creative ideas and go on to act on those ideas, for our business and for society,” says Joan-Maria Garcia Girona, Vice President and Head of BASF Business Center South Africa & Sub-Sahara.

Co-created visions to become a reality
The most promising ideas will be selected by an expert team in early 2016 and transformed into lighthouse projects with BASF’s support. This provides a long-term contribution towards solving social challenges and strengthening BASF’s ties and collaboration with partners.

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