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Innovative built environment projects score millions in CRC grants

CSIRO's printed solar cells are set to be used in a building-integrated photovoltaic roofing product.

Research projects involving printed solar film for building products, innovative prefabricated building systems and multi-storey timber housing technology have shared in $22.6 million of federal funding delivered through the Cooperative Research Centres Program.

The new funding was an outcome of last year’s Miles Review, which advocated for the establishment of a new CRC-Project model to run alongside traditional CRCs. These CRC-Ps, which involve industry and research body collaboration, run over a shorter timeframe than traditional CRCs, such as the CRC for Low Carbon Living. The maximum lifespan is three years, with funding capped at $3 million.

“Improving collaboration between researchers and industry to cultivate a more innovative and entrepreneurial economy is a key pillar of the government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda,” the former government’s Industry, Innovation and Science Minister Christopher Pyne said when announcing the recipients, which occurred prior to the election.

“We’ve placed industry at the front and centre of the CRC Program so we can build on our strengths in high-quality research to improve the competitiveness, productivity and sustainability of Australian industries.”

CSIRO, Solafast and Norwood Industries work on building-integrated solar

One exciting development sees CSIRO teaming up with start-up company Solafast and commercial printing company Norwood Industries for the “Printed solar films for value-added building products for Australia” CRC-P, with $1,604,633 granted for the $3,321,250 project.

Dr Fiona Scholes, group leader in integrated systems and devices at the Industrial Innovation Program at CSIRO Manufacturing, says the building-integrated photovoltaic project is an exciting development that could lead to a commercial Australian operation.

The project involves a roofing profile called Aramax, developed by Solafast director Wade Blazely, which has been licensed to steel building company Fielders, a subsidiary of Bluescope Steel.

The Aramax roofing profile enables very large spans of roofing to be installed without the usual amount of support structures. Roofing spans of up to 20 metres can be achieved without purlins or girts.

Scholes says this allows stunning structures to be developed in interesting shapes that can’t be achieved using conventional steel roofing products.

The product has been installed on projects such as Netball Central, the architect of which, Scott Carver, took out the Sustainable Architecture gong at last week’s NSW state architecture awards.

The large roofing spans make the product suitable for BIPV, Scholes says.

The production process of Aramax sees it put through a roll former (basically you stick in the flat stuff and out comes the bendy stuff, Scholes explained to The Fifth Estate).

The idea is that what comes off the solar printing line – a large roll of solar printed film – will be integrated with the steel during the roll forming process to create the BIPV product. Scholes says there is a nice match of aesthetics between Aramax and the solar film, and the light weight of the film will have no impact on structural integrity.

Another key aspect of the program will be to keep developing the printed solar film technology. While the solar film technology is currently “highly reproducible”, it needs improvements in terms of both efficiency and durability.

Norwood, which has specialised in printing on plastic, is “taking their first dip into exploring whether flexible electronics and printed solar could add value to their business”, Scholes says.

“We’re excited to have them onboard to get the perspective of a real printing manufacturer.”

She says they will be able ensure CSIRO does not stray away from what is commercially practical and viable.

The ultimate goal is to transition the solar printing project into a viable Australian business.

Scholes is hopeful because it’s the first time in the history of the Melbourne solar printing research effort – which has been active since 2007 through the Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium – that research providers have been lined up with potential manufacturers and end-users.

“All those parties are Australian,” she says. “If we can make it happen it will help to achieve what we’ve set out to do – translate what we’ve learned to grow Australian business and create Australian jobs.”

University of Melbourne and Speedpanel team up on prefab

Prefabricated building company Speedpanel and the University of Melbourne received the maximum $3 million in funding to go towards a $12 million project for “innovative prefabricated building systems”.

Lead project researcher associate professor Tuan Ngo, who is part of the University of Melbourne’s Department of Infrastructure Engineering, says the project aims to unlock the growth of Australia’s prefabricated building industry.

Named the “iBuildCRC project”, the collaboration aims to develop an innovative building system using advanced manufacturing techniques, which promises faster and cheaper construction.

This involves creating a cement-free version of Speedpanel’s lightweight panellised wall product, by using waste products such as fly ash from coal-fired power plants and slag from steel production.

“This new panellised system will be a significant advancement on traditional building products because it will be lightweight, easy to construct, reusable, recyclable and have better load resistance,” Ngo says.

“It also promises a much lower carbon footprint.”

He told The Fifth Estate the product also had lifecycle costs that were about 60 per cent of traditional products, and costs could potentially become lower as more waste material is incorporated. The thermal performance, fire performance and structural and mechanical properties have not lowered with the addition of waste material, Ngo says.

“The new CRC Project will provide a lot more opportunity and resources to improve the product.”

The research is also looking at automating the production process, so it can be developed on a production line 24/7, which would make it an economic solution for many building projects.

The university’s deputy vice-chancellor (research) Professor James McCluskey says the project could secure a “competitive advantage” for Australian industry, “leading to local employment growth and increased exports of prefabricated products and services”.

Speedpanel Australia managing director David Visser says more efficient and sustainable construction techniques would be pursued through the partnership.

“Prefabricated construction is ideal for affordable inner-city developments and this technology will help close the gap with reduced construction costs and increased fire protection qualities, which are pressing issues for the government.”

Lendlease and USYD work on timber solutions

Another interesting proposition, for which information is currently scant, involves, from what we can gather, multi-storey residential housing combined with innovation in timber (possibly CLT) and 3D printing.

The “Innovation in Advanced Multi-Storey Housing Manufacture” CRC-P involves Lendlease and its Timber Solutions business, the University of Sydney and 3D printing and modelling company Keech 3D Advanced Manufacturing.

It has received the maximum $3 million for the project, valued in total at $7,305,000.

“The CRC-Project will develop and build prototype housing solutions that use high-tech, renewable materials and advanced manufacturing processes,” a University of Sydney spokeswoman told The Fifth Estate.

“The research project brings together industry leaders in Australian housing and construction including Lendlease’s Property business, Keech 3D Advanced Manufacturing and the University of Sydney’s Innovation in Applied Design Lab, located in the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning.”

Lendlease is expected to announce further details over the next few weeks.

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