University of Plymouth builds lab using upgraded ancient cob technique

Construction has begun of the first building in the country to be made from an upgraded version of the centuries-old material of cob.

The single-storey building on the University of Plymouth campus will act as a classroom and laboratory with researchers monitoring the performance of the new walling material, as well as demonstrating it to future building designers, contractors housing associations and interested stakeholders.

The construction is the latest phase of the award-winning CobBauge project, being led by the University with partners in the UK, Ireland and France. These include Ecole Supérieure d'ingénieurs des Travaux de la Construction (ESITC), Parc naturel régional des Marais du Contentin et du Bessin (PnrMCB), Earth Building UK and Ireland (EBUKI), Université de Caen and Hudson Architects.

Principal investigator Steve Goodhew, Professor of Environmental Building, in the School of Art, Design and Architecture, said: "This is the start of an exciting new applied research phase for CobBauge, where we have an opportunity to put into practice the exciting findings from the laboratory. We will create a living lab and demonstration site that will become the centre of attention for a wide range of people – from construction professionals to built environment students."

The first phase of CobBauge set out to develop a new method of using cob that will meet with thermal regulations on both sides of the Channel. Through an intensive laboratory process, the researchers studied a range of different soil and fibre mixes, and created a unique double-layered composite wall that combines a denser mix with a lighter weight version of the material, for a combination of strength and insulation.

The project has now moved on to the second phase. This focuses on investigating the performance of the new building, using a range of sensors to measure energy use and analysing its life cycle and indoor air quality.

With planning permission secured, construction of the 32-square-metre building, located next door to the University's Sustainability Hub, will begin this month. It is expected to take around eight months to complete, with the work being carried out by Paul Barclay and Chris Noakes (Eco-Construction) and the University's Estate team.

Professor Will Blake, Director of the Sustainable Earth Institute, said: "Students and visitors to the site will be able to engage with this potentially industry-influencing ongoing research project, right next door to our green-walled Sustainability Hub, which, as a living lab, is itself at the forefront of the Low Carbon Devon programme. It exemplifies the University's committment to an ultra-low-carbon future."

The CobBauge project was a winner at the 2019 European Commission's RegioStars awards, beating more than 30 entries in the sustainability category.

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