Worlds’ first research Hub for Biotechnology in the Built Environment, here in the North East

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

It was recently announced that Northumbria and Newcastle University had been jointly awarded £8million to create the worlds’ first research Hub for Biotechnology in the Built Environment (HBBE).

Experts from both universities will develop new technologies to revolutionise how buildings are constructed and how they operate. By bringing together architects, engineers and bio-scientists the aim is that they can work towards developing sustainable materials and architectural structures which are responsive to the natural environment, grown using living engineered materials, process their own waste, reduce pollution, generate energy and support a biological environment that benefits health.

HBBE, which launched earlier this month, comprises of a micro design lab (based in Northumbria) and a macro bio-design lab (based at Newcastle) which will allow students to develop new technologies; from environmentally friendly molecules to materials. The hub also includes The OME, an experimental house where students will be able to test their research. This is what I’m most excited about, by giving students a place to implement their findings in a real-life setting the successful materials and systems will be ready to use immediately. It won’t be a case of months of hard work only to find out they don’t work when applied to real situations.

Research conducted through the HBBE is categorised by three themes:

  • Building Metabolism – which aims to develop a new generation of microbial technologies that will act as building metabolisms – processing waste and generating energy and useful products.
  • Living Construction – which will foster a new generation of bulk-engineered living materials that are intelligently synthesised and activated using microbial processes.
  • Microbial Environments – where the objective is to better understand and computationally predict the interaction between the built environment and microbes and to cultivate healthy environments.

The fund has been awarded from Research England’s Expanding Excellence in England (E3) Fund, made available through the modern Industrial Strategy. The original modern Industrial Strategy green paper stated that the government would only work with those sectors that were willing to help themselves and I think we’ve certainly shown that we are, and we’ve been rewarded for that. We’re wanting to change and move in the right direction and the fund is only going to support that. For a while now the industry has been taking responsibility in how we work and putting more effort into tackling the climate crisis. The current construction of buildings is unstainable due to its carbon footprint given that the built environment currently contributes 40% to the UK’s carbon footprint.

I’m so happy we’re looking at new building methods, new materials and technologies, all of which will have a positive impact on the environment, and I’m even happier that the latest research is happening here, in the North East.