New laboratory LEEDs the way

The GlaxoSmithKline Carbon Neutral Laboratory of Sustainable Chemistry at Nottingham Uni sets new standard for sustainable development

“Within 25 years, this building will be completely carbon neutral,” says Richard Fielding area director at Morgan Sindall, the main contractor for a new laboratory at the University of Nottingham. “There really is nothing like it around here. It’s a real example for others to follow and shows just what can be achieved.”

The £15.8 million GlaxoSmithKline Carbon Neutral Laboratory of Sustainable Chemistry started out as an idea to create a carbon-neutral laboratory. With no specific location in mind and the finished design on the drawing board, a site was needed. This was when a meeting between Nottingham University and GlaxoSmithKline led to the identification of a site at the university’s award-winning Innovation Park.

From here the project snowballed. With the project team in place, ground was broken on the development site in October 2013. With 4,500sqm of office space and laboratory accommodation for over 100 researchers, the development will provide state-of-the-art teaching and research laboratories, writing-up areas, school outreach space, academic offices, seminar rooms and a communal winter garden. The aim is to achieve LEED platinum accreditation and BREEAM outstanding certification, and the centre promises to be one of the most sustainable buildings of its generation.

The building fabric will incorporate the latest technologies and materials to allow it to be carbon-neutral over its lifetime. The naturally ventilated laboratory will be built from natural materials with energy generation met through renewable sources, such as solar power on the southern elevation and sustainable biofuel. Excess energy created by the building will either be fed back into the power grid or linked to a district heating system and used to heat the nearby office development on campus. It will also provide enough carbon credits over 25 years to offset the small amount of carbon used in the building’s construction.

“We face a number of challenges to ensure that we’re achieving both the necessary BREEAM and LEED standards whilst monitoring the carbon,” says Morgan Sindall projects manager Nick Hilton. “It has been an interesting exercise to compare the two approaches.

“We have found a number of materials which would be suitable for one, but do not meet the standards of the other and it can be a real challenge to source materials which are suitable for both.”

The carbon modelling of the building shows it reaching neutrality after 13 years of operation, but at that stage certain elements within the building, such as the CHP boiler, storage tanks and fabric ductwork, will require renewing, which puts the building back into carbon deficit. This ‘second phase’ carbon loading is then offset by the carbon credits generated through the renewable energy sources.

Achieving neutrality starts at the very beginning for the building, with a minimum amount of carbon-heavy materials such as steel and concrete being used. The building frame is constructed mainly from glued laminate (glulam) beams with around 60 per cent of the glulam panel walls externally clad in cedar. The remaining 40 per cent will be clad in terracotta tiles which are single-fired to keep embedded carbon to a minimum.

The green roof on the north-western elevation provides insulation to the laboratory while the four distinctive ‘horns’ are designed to allow the fume cupboards to discharge way above the fresh air intakes which are located at ridge level. This allows the air to circulate in the naturally ventilated laboratory space.

The south-western elevation is home to the solar PV panels, which sit above the winter garden and the laboratory spaces. This winter garden not only provides a relaxing space for the building’s users but also acts as an insulating buffer maintaining the temperate conditions inside regardless of the external temperature.

With a unique, distinctive design and its commitment to minimal environmental impact, the GlaxoSmithKline Carbon Neutral Laboratory of Sustainable Chemistry promises to become a game-changing building for sustainable development in the UK.

The development is being constructed in partnership between the University of Nottingham and the Higher Education Funding Council for England and is facilitated by a £12 million grant from GlaxoSmithKline. The lead contractor is Morgan Sindall, architects are Fairhurst Design Group and sustainability consultants are Best Foot Forward, with civil and structural services through Curtins.

Client-facing service engineer is Aecom, client-facing project manager is Gleeds, client-facing cost manager and QS is Capita and CDM coordinator is WSP Safety. Construction is expected to be completed in early 2015.

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