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HVAC and the biotech building revolution

HVAC and the biotech building revolution

15 Oct 14:00 by Jason Thornhill

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Recent UK investment in biotechnology in the built environment is set to spark new approaches to ventilation and other HVAC applications.

Two British universities, Northumbria and Newcastle, are sharing £8m to create a research hub that will develop principles which can be incorporated into a ‘living building’, improving both air quality and sustainability.

Bioluminescent lighting and plumbing systems with microbes to digest waste are just some of the ideas being explored, with ventilation manufacturers poised to develop the next generation of technology for homes and businesses.

So how will biotech change HVAC?

HVAC systems can already help to control airborne particles, dust and micro-organisms through ventilation system filtration. Sophisticated technology can help to maintain room pressure, humidity and temperature in sensitive environments such as laboratories and clinical settings.

One of the goals of this latest biotech investment will be to look at the feasibility of technologies which monitor the microbial environment, tracking viruses and bacteria. This is something that could have significant value in the healthcare sector.

The hub will also look at ways to create biological smart homes and buildings, such as how enzymes could be incorporated into HVAC systems to break down plastics or create a metabolism that can process waste to generate energy.

Professor Gary Black, a specialist in protein biochemistry at Northumbria University and a co-director of the hub, said:  “What we’re interested in doing is working out whether we can develop technologies to monitor the microbial environment, possibly through a ventilation system, so you are able to track and scan the microbes in the environment at any one time.”

Some of the other innovations being explored include a ventilation “layer” in a room, which can sweat when moisture builds up, opening up “sweat glands” that allow the walls to ventilate.

Another is bio-cement, which would remove the need for carbon-intensive cement manufacturing, using microbes to stimulate the formation of calcium carbonate.

The project will see researchers work closely with the HVAC and building services industry to develop effective and marketable solutions to healthy buildings and low carbon construction.