The first in the UK - the HIVE research facility allows testing of novel building materials for future better construction

New testing site to improve building materials of the future

Building materials of the future can now be tested in real weather conditions for the first time in the UK – thanks to the opening of a new facility in Swindon.

The HIVE, based at the University of Bath's Building Research Park, is the country's first centre to assess low-carbon construction materials in the open air.

Construction companies and academics can "plug and play" façades, walls and panels into a half-finished building at the £1m site.

The materials can be tested for load, weather, flood, fire and acoustics to give data about their performance in a real-world environment.

This kind of testing is currently performed in a laboratory, making it difficult to assess how materials react when exposed to real weather conditions such as wind and rain.

Experts say the new facility, being opened officially by the Earl of Wessex on Thursday, will provide a more accurate set of data for insurance and construction companies.

The built environment is responsible for 50 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions in the UK, making it the country's largest single emitter, and it is hoped the site will speed up the use of low-carbon materials.

Lesley Thompson, director of science and engineering at the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, which has funded the site, said it would make "a real difference".

"Our investment in the HIVE will allow researchers to study the carbon emissions and environmental impact of construction materials and will make a real difference to the future of construction both in the UK and worldwide," Thompson said.

"This grant fits alongside a number of other strategic investments we have made in research and training in civil engineering, and these align strongly with the government's industrial strategy for the construction sector."

The building has eight individual cells constructed to be completely insulated from each other, with a single face left exposed to the external environment.

These faces are used to install walls made from a range of materials and construction systems, with their performance evaluated in real-life conditions.

"The HIVE is a pioneering site that will allow industry to develop future energy-efficient construction materials and systems faster, while strengthening the research capabilities of our BRE Centre for Innovative Construction Materials," said Professor Jane Millar, pro-vice-chancellor for research at the University of Bath.

Research under way at the site includes testing the thermal and acoustic properties of double skin façades, along with the performance of different window types and acoustic ventilators.

Fabricated panels made from pre-dried hemp-line are being tested in the open air, with academics comparing them to wood fibre, mineral wool and other materials.

The flood resilience and structural integrity of timber walls is also being assessed to help flood-proof homes of the future.

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