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The key to a better built environment

Innovation is vital to creating a better built environment, enhancing the quality of life for generations to come - which is where the Modern Built Environment KTN comes in

We are all now well aware of the need to halt the acceleration of global warming through excessive carbon emissions and its potentially catastrophic effects on the planet. The government has set the target ? an 80% CO2 reduction by 2050. To have a fighting chance of achieving this target, we need to accelerate the actions that will reduce our emissions.

This means tackling the big carbon-producing activities and doing it now. Even if the scientists are found to be scaremongering with accelerated projections (which is unlikely), the economic argument alone should spur us into action: the costs of fossil fuel are increasing at a rapid rate ? recent research by says that the average household energy bill could nudge £5,000 a year by 2020 if current price trends continue.

So far, we have failed to adequately tackle the built environment, buildings and homes, which account for 50% of the UK?s total emissions. All of us working in the built environment have a responsibility to get things right ? to develop new communities that are not only affordable, functional and low carbon, but that ultimately improve and enhance quality of life for existing and future generations. It?s a huge challenge and a great opportunity where innovation is key to achieving success. It?s not just product innovation but innovative design in the built environment that addresses a changing society, as well as better and cleverer working processes and practices. This is where the Modern Built Environment Knowledge Transfer Network comes in, providing a framework to enable innovation to happen more easily across the built environment sector. Funded by the government?s Technology Strategy Board, the Modern Built Environment KTN's mission is to increase the exploitation of innovation in the built environment for demonstrated business benefit.

To date, the Modern Built Environment KTN has over 10,000 members, forming a critical mass of innovators in the built environment. Its activities support fully the Technology Strategy Board?s priorities for competitive research funding, with close alignment to the Low Impact Buildings Innovation Platform, assisted living and value-added manufacturing agenda in order to ensure that its members are best placed to take advantage of funding opportunities and innovations from the platform. The Modern Built Environment KTN also works with other knowledge transfer networks to find new innovations and technologies from other sectors, that can be successfully applied in the built environment. This includes products and solutions, including materials, electronics, environmental and creative industries and provides significant market opportunity for innovations from these industries.

Working with its members, the Modern Built Environment KTN has identified four priority challenge themes where innovation can be successfully applied to provide benefits for the built environment and the UK economy. These themes are:

Energy and Carbon Efficiency

The requirement to reduce energy consumption is driven by the need to reduce carbon emissions as well as energy bills and the continued reliance on overseas energy supply. The challenge is not necessarily to develop new products and systems, but often to use the right products in the built environment in the most appropriate way. Insulation and Air Tightness, Lower Carbon Products, Lower Carbon Energy Supply and Building Controls all form part of this larger challenge. Showcasing low-carbon innovation is a key activity for the network. Recently 20 new or near-to-market innovations that addressed the carbon reduction challenge were displayed at the Modern Built Environment KTN stand at ECOBUILD2010.

Ranging from energy-harvesting paving slabs to waterless radiators, they were selected from entries to a competition in 2009. The overall winner (voted for by visitors to the stand and members? online votes ) was an interactive paving slab that generates energy from footfall. The Pavegen system works by converting the kinetic energy from people's footsteps into electrical energy which is stored in a battery within the paving slab. A rubber panel on the top of the slab flexes with each footstep and the force generated is used to power an energy mechanism within. The energy produced can provide power for lighting, signage and information displays without the need to wire these electrical items into the national grid. Five hours of constant footfall would be enough to power the lighting of a bus stop all night.

Process Efficiency in the built environment

The built environment must be designed, built and operated efficiently to deliver optimised business performance. This challenge covers a breadth of issues, closing the circle from how we design buildings through to how users interact with buildings, including the ways in which new technologies and systems can be incorporated into the construction process.

Systems integration has been identified as a very complex challenge for the industry. How can new systems be effectively and economically incorporated into the build process? This includes a breadth of systems from new construction systems, such as insulated concrete formwork, new environmental systems such as grey-water recycling, new heating systems such as ground-source heating or new building management systems. Occupancy Experience is currently a major focus for the MBE KTN. The importance of how occupants interface with buildings is increasingly gaining recognition as one of the most important factors contributing to building performance. The industry must deliver a built environment that respond to the occupants? needs and enable them to reduce their own carbon footprints. Improvements in interfaces between occupants and building hardware will form a key part of the MBE KTNs activities in this area.

Climate Change Adaptation

There is a clear need for the built environment to innovate to adapt to increased frequency of extreme weather events, hotter summers, wetter winters and the associated effects of water availability and thermal comfort. Thermal Inertia has been identified as the most significant challenge for climate-change adaptation. This area of activity covers the fabric and design aspects of buildings and thermal comfort issues. It considers the need for protection from extreme external temperatures. Design for Future Climate Change is an area that the Technology Strategy Board is very much concerned with and will be running a collaborative research and development call in this area in summer 2010.

Life Extension and Refurbishment of the existing Built Environment

With the increased realisation that the UK has an ageing infrastructure and building stock, which has to be maintained rather than replaced, there are strong drivers to tackle performance improvement. Carrying out activities within the confines of an existing structure is altogether more challenging than starting with a blank canvas. This theme considers components of existing structures with similar or new materials to extend life or increase performance. If these solutions are to be implemented widely throughout the built environment we need to emphasise the importance of economic viability. The Technology Strategy Board has recognised the importance of this issue through its Retrofit for the Future competition. The importance of this issue has been reflected in the unprecedented number of applications received.

Engage with the MBE KTN

The MBE KTN is keen to engage a wide range of industry stakeholders in its activities. It relies on the active engagement of industry to:

  • Help us further define these challenges
  • Influence government priorities for increased investment
  • Showcase your innovations
  • Point you towards the UK?s world-leading research capabilities
  • Help you find solutions from outside the builtenvironment
  • Help new companies interested in this market; and
  • Put you in touch with the right partners to collaborate with for effective innovation.

For more information and to engage with the MBE KTN community, visit: Website:

Added the 26 April 2010 in category Innovation UK Vol6-1

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Tags: Modern Built Environment, low carbon, carbon emissions, MBE KTN, energy