With the Government’s target for the UK to reach net zero by 2050, the construction industry as a whole must reassess how buildings are designed and constructed to align with this objective. Here, Mike Polack, Structural Engineer at B&K Structures, talks to MMC about the role that engineered timber and hybrid offsite construction play in reducing the carbon footprint of buildings.


Following an update to the Climate Change Act in 2019, the UK has committed to achieving net zero by 2050 and has set an ambitious legally binding target to cut emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels. In the discussion of how the UK achieves this for the built environment, there has been a focus on phasing out natural gas heating and improving the operational energy efficiency of buildings.

However, embodied carbon, the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production of materials and the construction process, is a significant issue. In its ‘Embodied and whole life carbon assessment’ document, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) suggests that for a UK office, warehouse or residential building, embodied emissions represent around 70% of the lifecycle building emissions. Also, embodied carbon may soon enter building regulations through the proposed ‘Part Z’.



There are changes that can be made to design, materials and construction processes to reduce the embodied carbon. One of the clearest is the need to maximise the use of low carbon materials and be efficient with how we use them. UK FIRES, the research organisation run by the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Nottingham, Bath, Strathclyde and Imperial College London recently released its ‘Minus 45’ report looking at how UK emissions targets could be met. Its findings suggest that the Government’s ‘Net Zero Strategy’ will not be sufficient and further action must be taken. One of the key changes that Minus 45 recommends is to reduce cement production by 45% by 2030 and move to more efficient steel design and production.

Using timber in construction, often in conjunction with steel, is an alternative that can be implemented now. Used in construction for centuries, well designed buildings using timber have much lower embodied carbon. In addition, timber acts as a carbon store because trees absorb a significant amount of carbon as they grow and store it for the life of the material. The longer the timber is in use, the greater the environmental benefit of storing the carbon. Therefore, selecting high quality solutions and designing the building to last is important to maximise the impact.

Engineered timber has changed the way we build with timber. For example, glued laminated timber (glulam) is used for columns, beams and trusses. Cross laminated timber (CLT) is used for roofs, floors and walls, while timber cassettes offer a fast and efficient way of constructing roofs and external walls. The embodied carbon of engineered timber is decreasing rapidly as processing becomes more efficient and switches away from fossil fuels, seen in revised carbon factors being published by the Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE) among others.



Engineered timber gains the benefits of offsite construction as it is built into panels or sections and can be easily transported to site and craned into place. A study on a 10 storey building also found that switching from concrete to hybrid steel-CLT construction reduced lorry deliveries to site from around 700 to 111.

In addition, engineered timber integrates well with steel to form hybrid structures that utilise the benefits of the different materials. This is particularly valuable for longer span floors and allows cost and climate efficient solutions for a variety of building types.

Furthermore, as timber elements are typically lighter than those in other materials, the required size and strength of supporting structural elements can be reduced, minimising the amount of material, cost and carbon needed for elements such as the foundations. Engineered timber is particularly popular for vertical extensions to existing buildings, as more floors can be added using the lighter construction. This is valuable for increasing floor area in dense cities, providing clients and developers with larger lettable space and quicker returns.

While there are challenges to constructing with engineered timber, knowledge, experience, and research has grown on the back of years of successful projects in the UK. Working with specialists to get the right advice early on can ensure a building is optimised for timber or hybrid construction. We can also look to Northern Europe and North America for inspiration, where engineered timber has been embraced.

An excellent example of the real-world benefits of a hybrid engineered timber and steel building is B&K Structures’ 6 Orsman Road. A ground-breaking commercial scheme on the bank of the Regent’s Canal in London, the hybrid timber-steel structural solution maximised space on a rapid delivery schedule, and the six-storey building effortlessly showcases the benefits of engineered timber technology. Designed by Waugh Thistleton, this office building has CLT walls, floors and roofs alongside steel beams and columns, providing outstanding green credentials. The upfront embodied carbon of the steel and CLT superstructure was as low as approximately 120 kgCO2e/m2, with a similar amount of carbon stored in the CLT. For context, the time to grow back the timber used in this project in European forests would be about 3 minutes.

Engineered timber and hybrid structures have the potential to significantly reduce the built environment’s carbon emissions. To make the most of these benefits, seek specialist advice early on in project design.


To find out more about B&K Structures visit www.bkstructures.co.uk.

The market for modular and prefabricated buildings continues to boom, but are we storing up problems for the future that may ultimately cost millions of pounds in repairs and heartache for home owners? According to Global, the country’s fastest growing supplier of insurance backed latent defect warranties, it is a real possibility.

Manufacturers from every part of the globe are now producing and developing more components offsite than ever before with industry estimates suggesting that some 15,000 new modular homes are being built every year in the UK alone – a figure that is rising rapidly.

Every new home requires a latent defects warranty to cover anything unforeseen that might happen between year two and year three. During the first 24 months the builder is responsible for correcting any issues.

It is a system that has traditionally worked well, with more conventional homes seeking a latent defects warranty, being inspected at every stage of the build process. Companies such as Global have a multi stage inspection guide from the moment footings are dug and concrete poured, right up to final delivery, to ensure that each home is fit for purpose.

“The problem is,” said Jim Edwards, commercial Director for Global Home Warranties, “how do you inspect modular components for latent defects? This would require sending our surveyors to every factory currently producing such systems, as far away as China in some cases.”

“This means that while we can inspect the way they are installed, we equally have to accept that offsite components are fit for purpose and have reached the highest possible standard. In most cases this is very much the case, but there is no way of knowing 100% and this is where the real problem lies – without independent inspection at the factories then it is not possible to determine whether we will have to address latent defects issues in the future.”

The market for modular buildings is expected to grow in excess of 6% year on year and there are estimates that the majority of contractors architects and engineers are now designing with or using modules built offsite.

The move to offsite construction has been driven by the need to meet Government targets to build up to 300,000 new homes every year which means that modular and prefabricated components are increasingly being used.

Companies in the UK specialising in offsite construction have an enviable track record in terms of quality and mostly produce components which have been ISO certified or meet all current building regulations and standards.

This means, according to Global, that it will more likely to be imported systems that ultimately fail, possibly because overseas manufacturers are not as familiar with or as aware of building practice within the UK and European construction sector, or simply because standards have been set lower to save money.

“As we know, price is very much a factor within all areas of construction and there is likely to be a temptation to import more and more low-cost building systems,” said Jim Edwards. “They may do exactly what it says on the tin but none of us yet know what is likely to happen two, five or even 10 years down the line and now is the time to ask ourselves – should we be more stringent by having independent inspection processes in every factory that produces such materials.”

There is growing evidence and other industry experts agree that we could be storing up problems. Recent reports suggest that the lack of detailed data on the durability of modular homes in the UK could be a considerable barrier for construction professionals concerned about the long-term viability of offsite components.

Financial service providers, including insurers, mortgage lenders and valuers need to have certainty that modular homes are safe and durable if they are to engage with them, which is why we are now seeing Global and other industry experts calling for the development of a digital database that records the design, processes and materials used in the construction of buildings.

Digital technology would make it possible to create a database that would store and track information about the built environment and would record the materials and processes used. It could also track repairs and alterations in larger housing developments and make sure that this information would be available to relevant stakeholders, including insurers and fire services.

“This will never be as good as a personal inspection process,” said Jim Edwards, “but it would certainly provide more confidence and peace of mind for the entire industry and ultimately for the insurance companies that have to back latent defects warranties – and the time to act is now.”

Global Website

Better, Faster, Greener

Britain’s manufacturers invest more than £500 million to end Britain’s housing crisis – targeting 75,000 sustainable modular homes by end of decade and 50,000 highly skilled jobs across the UK

Six modular homes can be installed each day by a single crane and heating costs are slashed by 20%

  • Upscaling modular housing would provide capacity for 75,000 additional new homes by the end of 2029
  • Up to six houses installed each day by a single crane and a factory produces each house in just two hours
  • Modular homes cost 20% less cost to heat, and use 30% less energy as a whole due to cutting-edge design
  • With a 25% reduction in the workforce between 2016-2025 construction labour will be the new haulage industry unless action is taken now
  • Upscaling modular housing can create 50,000 flexible future economy jobs where they are needed across the UK
  • With up to 96% less embodied carbon modular housing is vastly more sustainable than traditional homes
  • 33% of UK construction businesses are currently based in the South East of England. Modular housing can use the nation’s buoyant housing markets to drive employment in other parts of the country supporting the levelling up agenda
  • Modular homes achieve net zero through the use of solar panels, air source heat pumps, superior building materials and production which delivers almost zero defects for energy efficiency

Make UK has launched a new trade body Make Modular, bringing together Britain’s leading modular housing manufacturers with a plan to solve the country’s housing crisis by delivering 75,000 affordable high-quality homes before the end of the decade. The UK housing market is at a tipping point where it could transform into the most advanced housing manufacturing market in the world in under a decade delivering in excess of 75,000 new homes via modular housing. Make Modular members’ factories can produce a new home every 2 hours. These homes are near defect free with 97% less embodied carbon than traditional builds. Make Modular members have already invested more than £500 million in new factories, cutting edge processes, and state of the art technology.

The UK construction sector will have lost at least 25% of its workforce by between 2016-25. There is a major risk that by the next election construction has become the new haulage with economic competitiveness undermined by an ageing workforce leaving the industry. More than 2,000 new jobs have been created by Make Modular members in the last 3 years. By moving people off-site and into clean, safe, modern working conditions volumetric can rebuild the construction workforce bringing up to 50,000 new younger people into the workforce.

Uniquely in the construction sector, modular housing provides the opportunity to construct offsite and in regions where labour is available. Homes are then transported to the areas where demand for new homes is the highest. Current factories driving the start of the modular revolution are already located in the Midlands and the North of the country, providing highly skilled and sought after careers using the latest digital and automated technologies with innovative design bringing about the highest environmental credentials.

Stephen Phipson, CEO of Make UK said:

“Imaginative and speedy solutions are required to tackle Britain’s housing crisis and modular housing could certainly play a significant part in helping local authorities deliver the challenging home building targets set for them by Government. But to make real significant progress, modular housing needs to have equal access to land for construction with many sites still favouring traditional modes of construction.

“Modular also needs to have the weight of Government procurement behind it using a joined-up approach including education, defence and housing to build much needed scale the UK’s modular industry.”

Modular housing manufacturers are also keen to accelerate the development of building regulations to match a new, more ambitious new normal when it comes to quality and energy across construction as a whole, driving forward the world’s biggest challenge of climate change.

Dave Sheridan, Chair of Make UK Modular said:

‘Modular housing has grown rapidly in the last few years. The establishment of our own trade body is the crucial next step in this process. As a natural partner to Government to solve the housing crisis, deliver the levelling up agenda, and combat climate change Make Modular will accelerate and advance the MMC agenda through one strong voice rather than a series of disparate ones.’




Construction equipment manufacturer Komatsu has been selected by the Japanese government to work on developing autonomous construction equipment that can operate in space.

As part of the aim of producing construction equipment that could operate on the moon, Komatsu is using digital twin technology to recreate site conditions and machines.

Komatsu says that digital twin technology is essential in precisely recreating site conditions and machines and the company is conducting a feasibility study to verify the possibility of developing high-precision digital twin technology.

Komatsu will create and operate a hydraulic excavator in cyberspace, using digital twin technology, and compare its movements with actual equipment on Earth to verify the simulator’s precision.

The ongoing three-year, mid-term management plan, is scheduled to be completed in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2022.

The overall name of the project is ‘Promoting the Development of Innovative Technologies for Outer Space Autonomous Construction’ and it is lead managed by Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism with collaboration by Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

Komatsu’s proposal of the Development of Digital Twin Technology for Lunar Construction Equipment has been selected as an eligible target of Technology related to Autonomous Construction (Automation and Remote Control).

HPS expands its product range by introducing storage systems for businesses and multi-family houses

  • Year-round multi-picea electricity storage system can store up to 15,000 kilowatt hours of solar electricity
  • Cascaded storage units enable flexible performance and storage capacity
  • First commercial property equipped with multi-picea in Meckenheim


Berlin, 7 December 2021 – HPS Home Power Solutions GmbH (HPS), provider of picea, the green hydrogen-based, year-round electricity storage system for buildings, today announced that it has expanded its product portfolio. The newly developed “Förster” control and energy management system now allows up to ten picea units to be interconnected. This “multi-picea” set-up can now supply solar power to buildings with larger power requirements, such as commercial properties or apartment buildings, from their own roof all year round. Multi-piceas have a storage capacity of up to 15,000 kilowatt hours electric.

HPS is constantly working on expanding the performance of its products and opening up new market segments. The cascading approach used by multi-picea allows both performance and storage capacity to be adjusted for different applications. By using the same standard picea unit, additional scale effects in production are achieved resulting in lower manufacturing costs going forward.

“By developing multi-picea we have responded to a strong demand in this sector and created a solution that offers higher storage capacity and performance in larger buildings. This enables consumers in commercial properties and multi-family houses to fully utilize their own solar power even in winter by flexible scaling of our proven year-round electricity storage system,” said Zeyad Abul-Ella, Managing Director and co-founder of HPS. “Our multi-picea solution is yet another contribution to decarbonizing the building sector.”


First multi-picea installed in Meckenheim

Josef Küpper Söhne GmbH from Meckenheim is the first customer to equip a commercial property in Germany with a multi-picea system. Five picea units store the surplus solar power produced by the 98‑kilowatt peak solar system installed on the roof and facade of the company’s new building, thus covering the electricity and heat requirements even in winter. “We are pursuing an independent and clean energy supply both for our customers and for ourselves, because the time is ripe to move toward a carbon-free society. That is why we opted for the multi-picea long-term storage system from HPS when we designed our new site in Meckenheim,” said Peter Küpper, Managing Director of Josef Küpper Söhne GmbH.


About picea

picea is the world’s first hydrogen-based electricity storage system for one and two-family houses. The Förster product extension allows picea units to be cascaded to meet even larger power and storage requirements. The energy surpluses achieved on sunny days from a photovoltaic system are stored as green hydrogen to make electricity and heat available in the dark season. picea provides year-round, carbon-free full power supply and also reduces heating costs.


How multi-picea works

A central control and energy management unit called “Förster” (German for forester) establishes communication between the individual picea units, distributes energy evenly and records the building’s energy flows. Förster enables the individual picea units to work together in one application, the multi-picea solution. picea is the Latin term for spruce. One picea avoids about three tons of carbon dioxide per year. This corresponds to the amount of carbon dioxide bound by 130 spruce trees per year. Förster can manage up to ten picea units. The intelligent energy management provided by Förster distributes the storage of solar energy in summer and the power output in winter to the individual systems as needed, which ensures the longevity of the individual modules.


About HPS Home Power Solutions

HPS develops and produces integrated systems for the storage and use of solar energy for one- and two-family houses. The Förster product extension allows picea units to be cascaded to meet even larger power and storage requirements. HPS offers green hydrogen-based solutions for decarbonizing the building sector. The Berlin-based company was founded in 2014 by Zeyad Abul-Ella and Dr. Henrik Colell and stands for reliability, independence and sustainability in decentralized energy supply. picea, developed by HPS, is the first system worldwide that combines electricity storage, heating support and residential ventilation in one compact product. One picea system avoids approx. three tons of carbon dioxide per year, binding as much carbon dioxide as 130 spruce trees. picea has won several prestigious awards, most recently the Handelsblatt Energy Award 2020, the Smarter E Award 2021 and the Berlin Brandenburg Innovation Award 2021.


For more information, please visit: http://www.homepowersolutions.de/