The EU-funded ECO-SEE project is developing highly insulated wall panels that have been treated with novel coating materials and finishes. These panels are designed to enhance the capacity of building materials to naturally regulate the interior environment and capture volatile organic compounds (VOCs), some of which can be dangerous to human health or cause harm to the environment. The project team is also developing highly novel photocatalytic coatings using nanoparticle technology, which are capable of decomposing harmful chemicals when exposed to sunlight. This prevents them from being released into the air. ‘By making these better products at a lower price, we are creating cost effective solutions with the potential for real market impact,’ says project coordinator Professor Pete Walker from the University of Bath, UK. ‘We intend to bring to market building products that offer at least 15 % lower embodied energy than traditional construction materials, with a 20 % longer lifespan and at least 20 % lower build costs.’ To date, ECO-SEE has successfully developed a variety of prototype insulation materials, coatings and photocatalytic coatings and is now moving towards the end of the demonstration phase. Three projects have been carried out in Spain and the UK, with two more due for completion soon in Italy and Germany. While project partners are confident that new markets will be established for these clear innovations, they also believe that end users will benefit significantly as well. ‘This project addresses an emerging health problem associated with modern low carbon buildings,’ explains Walker. ‘While modern buildings have been developed to be very airtight – improving their energy efficiency and reducing their carbon footprint – these sealed environments have created unexpected side effects. For example, research shows that a build-up of potentially harmful chemicals in the air can have potentially negative health impacts on occupants.’ The project began in 2013 by identifying potential materials with VOC capture and moisture buffering properties. Next, photocatalytic coatings and novel materials were developed, with different types of bio-based products such as wood-based panels, lime and clay materials tested. This initial work enabled the team to develop a holistic Indoor Environment Quality (IEQ) model, which is currently being used to guide prototype product development. Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) and Life Cycle Costs (LCC) will be applied throughout the project, ensuring that all project results are as sustainable as possible. ‘Overall, the technical work is proceeding as planned and ECO-SEE is now approaching the phase where all innovations developed by the partners are integrated into high performance wall panels,’ says Walker. Ensuring successful and sustained commercial development and exploitation of the outcomes will be the key challenge for the final six months of the project. The four-year project is due for completion at the end of August 2017.
Wall panels, volatile organic compounds, indoor, fresh air