JUNE 2013

The Director of the Sustainable Buildings Research Centre, Prof Paul Cooper, talks to ABC Illawarra’s Nick Rheinberger about the SBRC facility and the Illawarra Flame Solar Decathlon project.

The SBRC is launching late 2013.

Nick Rheinberger (NR): Have you seen the latest building going up at the Innovation Campus. A really interesting looking building and of course it would be because it is the Sustainable Building Research Centre. The building itself is a flagship for the kind of things they’re going to be doing and naturally, its going to have to be environmentally cutting edge, architecturally, and in engineering and it basically seems to be ticking all of those boxes. It’s the only 6 star rated building in the country.

Professor Paul Cooper is the director of the centre. He is with on the line right now. 97.3 ABC Illawarra good morning.

Professor Paul Cooper (PC): Good morning Nick.

NR: What does it mean to be 6 star?

PC: Well the green star rating system is the rating system that is used throughout Australia by the green buildings council as their sustainability framework and I might just take the opportunity to correct something there Nick. We’re not the first ever 6 star rated building in Australia, but we certainly hope to be the first one in the Illawarra. So at present, there are no 6 star green star buildings in the Illawarra.

NR: Ok, so it’s the only 6 star building in the Illawarra? It will be the only one here. Where else have the built them?

PC: There are a couple of hundred commercial buildings through Australia that have 6 star ratings. Very few in the Higher Education Sector. Probably half a dozen at the most, and really we propose that our building be 6 star green star when we first went to the federal government to have this research centre established. But we have also gone beyond the 6 star green star threshold and were aiming to be the first ever building in Australia to meet was is called the Living Building Challenge Accreditation. So that really will be a first in Australia.

NR: What does that mean? The Living Building Challenge?

PC: The Living Building Challenge is an international sustainability framework and it’s a holistic but a very tough accreditation program, and just to give you an example. Whereas in the green star rating scheme here at the moment you get a number of points depending on how energy efficient you are. With the Living Building Challenge in energy, you either meet the criteria or you don’t and the criteria is simply that you produce more renewable energy onsite than you actually import from the grid over the course of a year. So that you’re net zero energy. So it’s very tough and certainly, there are no other buildings in Australia of any size that have met this very tough sustainability accreditation

NR: Is that only about Electricity or is that about Water use as well?

PC: Yes, it involves a number of aspects and the Living Building Challenge actually has 7 main parts to it. So there’s energy, water, so we need to be water self-sufficient basically so we will actually export water and probably the most challenging aspect of the accreditation is the materials that we use. So we use and have used recycled materials as much as possible, we’ve got reused rail line for example in parts of the structure

NR: The metal part of the rail line? Or the Sleepers?

PC: The metal part of the rail line.

NR: So instead of using high beams and all that you’re using rail.

PC: Yea, but only for a small section of the structure. It’s more to demonstrate wht you can do.

NR: And you have used recycled timber as well? As well as local BlueScope Steel

PC: Yes, all of the roofing is BlueScope roofing, I might say too, we are working very closely with Bluescope as our primary industrial partner in the whole venture, we have almost half a million dollar grant which BlueScope won with ourselves and the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany to develop some new Photovoltaiks thermal technologies, we’re demonstrating that on the SBRC building and in fact that PVT system as its known is be commissioned right now and we’re getting the first results out of it.

NR: Can all of this technology mean that you won’t have to use power to air condition to cool or heat the building?

PC: We will still need some air conditioning and heating but the object of the exercise and what our design team set out from the start to do is to try and maximize the amount of time that we naturally ventilate the building over the course of a year.  So that was our starting point, we used passive starting design principles, cross ventilation and lots of openable window areas, all of those good things. But then we’re still left with some heating and cooling requirements to maintain the building comfortable in the very cold parts (not that it gets very cold here) but during the winter season and the summer season, we need air-conditioning. A very unique heating and ventilation system based on a ground sourced heat pump. Where we’re actually either extracting heat energy from the ground during winter through boreholes or through the summer we’re actually pumping heat back into the ground. And that gives us a very much more efficient heating and ventilation then you normally would have in a  building such as this.

NR: And how’s the building timetable going?

PC: The building itself, in terms of all of the major structure and so on is finished. As your listeners who drive past Science Centre and the innovation campus would have noticed. So now we’re fitting out the interior with furniture and so on and we’re progressively procuring all of the scientific and engineering equipment that will go in the laboratories, and we will be taking up residence in the next month or two.

NR: Now I understand you are involved in the Universities’ Solar Decathlon Challenge. A very different one where they didn’t decide to design a new building but decided to take a 70’s design and retrofit it to make it as environmentally friendly as possible. Is that right?

PC: That’s right, so I’m the academic coordinator for the student team that has developed this demonstration of how you would retrofit a 60’s fibro home

NR: Does that mean you’re at a disadvantage to the other competitors?

PC: In lots of ways, yes. Because one of the thing the students have had to do is design the house so it can fit in shipping containers. To get it across to China, where the competition is about to happen, in fact just today the 7 shipping containers are arriving at the Zhanjiang port and then they will be shipped across to Dezhou where the competition is going to happen. But that meant the students had to develop a way of modularizing, breaking down the house so that it would fit into shipping containers. And they had to do it in such a way that they could rebuild the house in a very short space of time. Because they only get 2 weeks before between when they start to build the house and the competition starts. And our team lead by Scott Redwood on the construction and the design side have actually come up with a system, they think they will be able to build the house within about 5 days.

NR: That’s an amazing achievement, so you’re going over to China to be with them?

PC: Absolutely, I wouldn’t miss it for anything.

NR: Are you taking the socket set and the cordless drill?

PC: Yes, we have sent most of that over with the house in the shipping containers. So right now, Lloyd Nichol who is the student project manager and some of the members of the team are wrestling with the logistics to get all of this through customs and we’ve got lists of hundreds and hundreds of items that we’ve shipped over there. But we’ll be unpacking the containers on about the 15 July and rebuilding the house.

NR: All the best with it and I hope to catch up with you when you come back from China.

PC: Thanks very much Nick.