A prefabricated biocomposite facade panel that reduces embodied energy by 50 per cent has gained Arup and GXN, the research and development arm of architecture firm 3XN, a top European innovation award.

The BioBuild facade panel, which took out the JEC Innovation award for construction, has been designed for application in commercial buildings and reduces facade system embodied energy by up to 50 per cent compared with conventional construction materials – with no increase in cost.

Biocomposites comprise natural fibres, like flax and hemp, and natural resins made from the byproduct of agricultural processing of corn, sugar cane and other crops.

The BioBuild façade panel is four metres by 2.3 metres and includes a glazing unit. It features two biocomposite outer shells, made of flax fabric and a bio-derived resin, with a central layer of insulation material. The panel is delivered to site as a fully prefabricated unit, and has been designed to meet the stringent thermal, structural and fire performance requirements of building codes in Germany, Denmark, the UK and Spain.

The panel geometry is also optimised for energy efficiency, with an overhang to provide shading and reduce cooling loads. The low thermal conductivity of the biocomposite materials also helps to boost thermal performance. A life cycle approach was taken when developing the facade panel, too, with all parts early detachable and able to be reused or recycled.

“This innovative product pushes the boundaries of both facade and materials engineering towards new targets by using biocomposites in an extremely demanding sector of construction,” Arup Berlin BioBuild design manager Guglielmo Carra said. “The design freedom of biocomposites can generate a strong impact on the appearance of buildings.”

The facade was developed as part of BioBuild, a collaborative project with 13 partners funded by the European Commission to increase the use and competitiveness of biocomposites.

“Realising these designs show a way for change towards the use of regenerative materials, where natural materials can replace conventional construction materials such as aluminium, steel, brick and concrete,” director of GXN Kasper Guldager Jensen said. “BioBuild proves that biocomposites can create viable products for the building industry. I am very happy to see this collaborative effort between engineers, architects, materials specialists and manufacturers come through. It shows the strength of cross disciplinary innovation.”

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