University builds lab using upgraded ancient cob technique

Artist’s impression of how the new CobBauge project building will look. (Image courtesy of the University of Plymouth)

The University of Plymouth has started construction of the first building in the country to be made from a scientifically upgraded version of the centuries-old material of cob.

It marks the latest phase of the CobBauge project, which is investigating whether an optimised version of cob can become a sustainable solution for a new generation of energy-efficient housing.

The single-storey building 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 and contractors.

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. Researchers studied a range of different soil and fibre mixes, and created a 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 moved on to the second phase, which 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.

The project is being led by Plymouth University and its Sustainable Earth Institute, along with partners in England 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 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.”

Construction of the 45 sq m building next door to the university’s Sustainability Hub started in summer this year and the walls are now in place. It is expected to be completed in spring 2022, with the work being carried out by Chris Noakes (Eco Contractor) and the university’s estates team.

Professor Will Blake, director of the Sustainable Earth Institute, said: “The location for the CobBauge building effectively creates a sustainability research ‘quarter’ on our campus. Students and visitors to the site will be able to engage with this potentially industry-influencing ongoing research project, right next door to our hub, which itself is at the forefront of the Low Carbon Devon programme. It exemplifies the university’s commitment to a net zero carbon future.”

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

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  1. very interesting but short on technical details.

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