In the era of rapid digital innovation and technological advances, imagine a construction technique that revolutionises the way we build – an efficient technique through which buildings can be erected in a fraction of the time it takes to construct a conventional building. Then imagine every joint of this building is a source of energy for electric appliances, with power harvested from movements within the building, rather than energy distributed from a coal or gas-fired power plant.
That is the vision Felicia Whiting, Director of Infratech Industries, is exploring through a world-class multidisciplinary collaborative research project with experts from the Centre for Infrastructure Engineering at Western Sydney University (WSU).
The project, which commenced at the beginning of the year, aims to create a revolutionary building construction technology along with ‘sustainable, self-generating living experience’.
More specifically, a key line of investigation is the potential for cutting edge materials like titanium composites and carbon nanotubes to be embedded in an innovative construction joint to capture the energy from movement-generated stress and strain on the joints of modular constructions.
The advantages of innovative joints connecting fully prefinished and prefabricated modular units are two-fold:
- During construction it significantly increases the efficiency, speed and quality of construction, and enhances safety by eliminating the need for on-site redundant elements; and
- During operation it generates energy for various uses.
The final product will be the world’s first self-powered modular building system without a need for a structural core.
“Just moving or walking around a modular home can cause minute movements that can create an opportunity for energy to be harvested,” Ms Whiting said.
“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.
“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 scientists at WSU are doing world-leading research and technology development in this area, and Infratech Industries is delighted to partner with them.
She said interconnected elements could generate energy for power solutions suited to work or living environments. For example, small movements may be enough to power lighting in a smallscale home. If energy was aggregated, for example in an apartment building, it could power information management systems, building health monitoring systems or damage detection systems.
Dr Pejman Sharafi is a Senior Lecturer at Western Sydney University and a Senior Fellow of the Australian Research Council and the Head of MPD-Lab at WSU.
He said, “Our research program aims 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.”
To that end MPD-Lab is leading a couple of research projects on the development of innovative standardised construction products (components and sub-assemblies) using more eco-friendly materials to facilitate the transformation to a sustainable product-based manufacturing ecosystem.
Research teams with expertise in nanocomposites, advanced sustainable materials, smart sensors, robotics, and automation from the Centre for Infrastructure Engineering are collaborating in this research.
The joint research project is scheduled for completion in late 2023.