3 March 2011

Black @ Ecobuild

Over the last 2 days representatives from Black Architecture have been doing the rounds to see what potentially interesting products are on show at this year’s Ecobuild. Whilst real innovation seems to be sparse, there has been a few products which have caught the eye.

Shower Heat Recovery from ITHO.

Rather than letting our water from a hot shower go down the drain without any further use, why not use it to pre-warm the incoming cold water. Using a very simple system of running the cold water supply to the shower through the warm waste water in a sealed system you can pre-warm and in turn lessen the amount of heated water required to mix your morning shower to the desired temperature. Available in either Copper or Aluminium, depending on your budget, the system can apparently recover between 50-60% (depending on the material) of the waste water heat.

Energyflo Construction Technologies' Dynamic Breathing Building System

As the thickness of exterior walls rocket due to improved U-values, Energyflo Construction Technologies’ Dynamic Breathing Building systems are an interesting piece of lateral thinking. The product replaces traditional insulation in the wall build with a combined system that does the job of traditional insulation and more. Air is drawn into the centre of a modular panel where there is a filter sandwiched between two boards, here the air is heated/cooled by the building’s radiant heat before being pulled into a ventilation system. The product supplies filtered and pre-heated air into a building and claims to be capable of achieving U values of 0.10 W/m2k at the same time whilst minimizing the wall thickness.


Skyshades have introduced flexible PV cells to their tensile membrane structures. This lightweight solution can curve to suit most canopy applications and generates power from lower light levels than many standard cells. While the technology itself has been around for a little while, it begins to paint an exciting picture of a solar powered future…

  • Alfresco umbrellas which you plug-and-play your laptop into;
  • Car park shelters which double as a charging dock for electric vehicles.

Diasen – Diathonite.

2000 year old Roman technology goes into Diasen’s thermal insulating cork-based plaster products. Cork is mixed with clay, Diatomeic powder, Polypropylene fibres and ‘environmentally sound’ additives and hydraulic natural lime to form a spay applied Diathonite coating. A product that the manufacturers identify a range of uses from external thermal insulation to acoustic screeds.

The product data sheets indicate high thermal capacity and good breathability, elasticity and acoustic properties. Diathonite forms a substrate that can take a range of finishing coats or tiles. On an Italian Autostrade it is left in its raw state as a sound absorbing finish, reflecting only 30% of the incident sound waves from the passing Ferraris and electric cars.

Thermo emulsion from Nutshell

Thermo emulsion is an insulating paint, described as ‘Paint that acts like a flask’. Using Nano and Micro technology to resist thermal transfer through walls. By reflecting over 92.35% of the infrared spectrum heat is retained in winter and reflected away in summer where the paint is applied to both internal and external surfaces. The Nano SurfaPore ceramic microsphere particles also prevent moisture from freely penetrating the paint surface, reducing condensation risk.

Available in a range of colours, easy clean and with VOC’s under 3g/l it sounds good. Does it work? Probably one for Professor Doug King’s Building Physics colleagues to answer.

28 February 2011

Black becomes Carbon Neutral...

As part of our commitment to take responsibility for our environmental impact, we have offset our carbon footprint with Carbon Retirement.

Carbon Retirement buys industrial ‘pollution permits’ on our behalf and permanently removes them from the carbon trading system. Ensuring that the price of offsetting in the trading market truly reflects the crisis we are facing. These permits are needed by industrial companies, so reducing the number available forces companies to reduce their emissions and incentivises investment in low carbon technology.

We believe this is the most effective and ethical way to take responsibility for our unavoidable emissions because it tackles the problem of developed-world emissions head-on and reduces our reliance on fossil fuels, moving us more swiftly to a low carbon economy.

In 2009 we introduced a Management System into the practice, which sought to build on the processes and initiatives developed through the ethos of the practice to attain ISO 14001 and ISO 9001 certification. Through this scheme the practice began to measure its energy and resources consumption and subsequent carbon emissions with a view to becoming carbon neutral.

Over a 12 month period Black collected data relating to office energy use, waste, paper, commuter travel and business travel to calculate our yearly emissions. These totals are then used to set targets for the coming year.

Once the initial data was collected, where (and with who) to offset our carbon was another challenge. There are a number of organisations that offer carbon ‘offsetting’ using the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). The CDM is mainly used by industrialised countries to help meet their emissions reduction targets, but it is also used on a voluntary basis by individuals and organisations wanting to offset their carbon footprint.

Through the CDM, greenhouse gas emission reduction projects are built, in places such as Thailand, India and South America which are funded by carbon credits bought by buyers in developed countries.
All of which is laudable, but recent research suggests that only a third of the money spent on offsetting actually goes to fund environmental projects. For every £1 a statutory buyer spends on carbon offsetting under the CDM, typically just 31p is spent on the project’s set-up and maintenance costs and for voluntary buyers going through a carbon offsetting retailer, rather than dealing direct with brokers, the amount typically making it through to the project is even smaller, at just 28p. The rest of the money is ‘lost’ to investors, brokers and other participants in the process.
So what should businesses do to address those unavoidable emissions they emit?
The online service "Carbon Retirement" offsets carbon emissions on behalf of consumers and businesses by ‘retiring’ allowances that would otherwise be used by big polluting companies that are regulated by the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

Carbon Retirement from Carbon Retirement on Vimeo.

The ETS sets emissions caps for heavy industry in the EU and allocates the polluters with a fixed number of permits – each one the equivalent of one tonne of CO2 – which they can then either trade (if they reduce their emissions) or use against their CO2 emissions.

Carbon retirement works because it offers “a clear environmental impact” and it tackles the emissions created by developed countries head on, it's the most effective method of offsetting, because it's the only way you can be 100% sure that the emissions reduction you're paying for will definitely take place as they buy the permits and permanently remove them from the system. As a business that invests in voluntary offsetting we are looking for value-for-money, and are concerned about the inefficiencies in the supply chain for project-offsets, which mean that a lot of the money might not end up being directed towards reducing emissions.

Carbon Retirement for us delivers a true impact in the fight for climate change. Their retirement scheme is straightforward and transparent and in keeping with our philosophy of challenging preconceptions by creating a market changing approach.