Felicia Whiting and Dr Pejman Sharafi

A Sydney-based research partnership is in the process of creating self-powered modular homes with the energy source actually built into the building’s joints

Western Sydney University along with local startup, Infratech Industries, are looking to create far more efficient modular homes capable of powering appliances and other services by harnessing the movement of the house itself.

Director of Infratech Felicia Whiting said the futuristic idea could be very possible through the use of cutting edge materials like titanium composites and carbon nanotubes — and with the expertise of those at WSU’s Centre for Infrastructure Engineering.

“Environmental factors like strong winds that cause vibration or differentials in temperature on the skin of a building can also be converted into electrical energy, provided you have advanced energy absorbing materials and smart building structures in place,” Ms Whiting said. 

“Just moving or walking around a modular home can cause minute movements that can create an opportunity for energy to be harvested.” 

Small movements may be enough to power lighting in a small-scale home, according to Ms Whiting, however, if energy was aggregated in an apartment or commercial office building for example, it could be used to power information management systems, building health monitoring systems or damage detection systems.

“If we can demonstrate these systems work and the technology can be successfully used in new buildings, it will lessen the load on our power grids and the need for centralised power generation  plants. We could build sustainable pop-up communities almost anywhere,” Ms Whiting said.

The benefits of the research and the modular joints that Infratech is in the process of patenting, also extends to prefabricated building itself, which can significantly increase the efficiency, speed and quality of construction.

“The intention of our modular design is to be able to remove the core which will speed up construction…but in Australia our regulatory framework is not set up to accommodate prefabricated tall buildings,” Ms Whiting said. 

“We’ve got to get the regulatory framework up to speed on accepting alternative methods of construction as opposed to traditional. 

“So in parallel with our research program we’ve been documenting the performance requirements to show what we’re doing meets code with the loads, the structure and fire and services, so that when the research is finished we’ll be able to go straight into the manufacturing of it.” 

Infratech Industries was also behind Australia’s first floating solar project which it created in partnership with South Australia’s Flinders University, as well as an innovative energy storage and generation system developed with the University of Newcastle.

Dr Pejman Sharafi is a senior lecturer at WSU, a senior fellow of the Australian Research Council and head of WSU’s Modular Prefab Design Laboratory (MPD-Lab).

He said his team aimed to “remove major roadblocks preventing widespread application of high performance modular, prefabricated systems in construction, and accelerate the transition to advanced building manufacturing technologies in Australia and beyond.”  

The joint research project is scheduled for completion in late 2023.

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