The supply chain is the lifeblood for offsite and MMC construction. So how can manufacturer partnerships help drive the industry forwards? Clive Reeves, Business Development Manager – Offsite, MMC at Knauf UK & Ireland explores how manufacturers like Knauf are working to develop solutions for the industry.

300,000 new houses a year was our government’s target for levelling up the country. The results so far are a little off the mark, but the ambition remains the same. We need more houses and that target isn’t shifting despite a predicted immediate slowdown in construction output of 7%*1.  MMC and offsite manufacturing offer the potential to deliver more houses at speed and scale. Something of a remedy to the current output trajectory. However, even this specialised industry is experiencing slower than anticipated growth. The Offsite Construction Market Report – UK 2021-2025 highlights how the market for offsite housing has only grown by an estimated 6%*2.

It doesn’t paint a particularly positive picture when combined with news of modular house builders like Ilke Homes and L&G Homes going into administration. Their collapses brought about by a struggle to fill order books to match factory output and ensure a sustainable business. Further delays in planning also contributed to this struggle while also delaying the building of much needed housing.

Despite the challenges faced by all, we at Knauf firmly believe offsite and MMC methodologies offer real advantages and benefits to the industry. The solutions just come with some immediate barriers we collectively must overcome.
So where are those pain points?  Put the problems first.

Our approach at Knauf is to start by identifying where the problems or challenges are and provide solutions. Every project carries a level of challenge and offsite or MMC manufacturing is no different.  Interestingly, when we engage with offsite and MMC builders and contractors, the challenges faced are similar to those experienced in the wider industry. It’s easy to think of this different methodology as having mysterious or complex issues which require nothing short of bespoke solutions. However, when engaging with the market we tend to note three common challenges: efficiency, sustainability, and knowledge.  Improving efficiencies across the board.

Sitting at the heart of offsite manufacturing is efficiency. By moving construction into a controlled location such as a factory, supply chains can be optimised, disruptions kept to a minimum, and build times reduced. But achieving this level of optimisation is hard.  Offsite factories operate on the basis of speed and a ‘just-in-time’ principle. Large production sites need a smooth operation of products into the production line to produce modular houses out the other end. Knauf works with volumetric housebuilders to create key supply lines which ensure a steady flow of product into the production facility. Productivity and efficiency are key to a quality product being delivered to site on time.  Where Knauf can add value is in the reduction of time spent in the building process. Modular builders can’t afford to have large commercial or residential ‘modules’ sat waiting for product to dry or sections to be installed. Here, product choice can have a huge impact on the overall efficiency of that production line.

Structural components such as the Knauf ThroughWall system provide a unique, BBA Approved solution. The all-in-one system is comprised of steel framing components (SFS), internal insulation, plasterboard, external sheathing and insulation.  The ThroughWall system delivers a panelised solution using rolled steel frame to provide certified performance levels. In addition, the system allows for a range of external finishes such as rainscreen cladding or brickwork to be added in the factory or on site.  Systematic approaches are gaining traction in traditional and offsite construction. This shift is driven by the need to provide proof of compliance or performance, particularly in areas of fire safety. Systems such as ThroughWall provide this level of reassurance for contractors and housebuilders. The Knauf System Performance Warranty is an extra level of protection afforded when a systematic approach is taken.

Another area where product choice can improve lead times and efficiency is in drying times for plaster. Even with all the temperature controls available, plaster takes time to dry before it can be painted. However, one of the biggest advantages Knauf can offer is its spray plaster alternative, Knauf Ready-Mixed Airless Finish.

Knauf Airless Finishes can be applied significantly faster than traditional plaster methods. Its full potential is best realised at scale, where there are multiple rooms or units which can be plastered in a short space of time. This means more rooms can be finished at a greater pace than with traditional plastering. Combined with its reduced drying times, contractors are able to move on to the next stage far sooner.

Additionally, Airless can achieve a faster finish with less manpower needed. Whereas a large contractor might employ several sub-contractor plastering firms to complete the work, Airless Finishes can be used by smaller, more agile teams to achieve the same effect.  GIFA Flooring, a high-density screed panel provided in a tongue-and-groove interlocking flooring system, is another solution which offers similar speed and efficiency benefits. The easy-to-install, structurally stable board make it an ideal alternative to traditional wet floor screed, effectively eliminating drying times.

In addition to its benefits versus traditional chipboard, Knauf GIFA flooring’s low thermal resistance and high conductivity make it an excellent choice when paired with underfloor heating systems.  Sustainability on top of the agenda.
When engaging with offsite house builders, there is always the objective of reducing waste and consumption in the production line. There’s no set approach to achieving this, instead requiring Knauf to work with customers to identify where excess can be cut back. Whether that’s through reducing offcuts from plasterboard or minimising water usage on site, Knauf work to provide solutions which aid these objectives.  The water usage factor is one area where product choice can again make real savings. Both Knauf Airless and GIFA systems utilise significantly less water than their traditional alternatives which offer modular and offsite housebuilders an immediate saving.  In aiding housebuilders reach net zero, Knauf are making changes to their own supply chain to improve sustainability. From using more sustainable fuels in delivery fleets, to increase recycled plastic content in packaging, Knauf have set ambitious but decisive net zero goals.  Knowledge is everything.

Building volume properties at pace is a challenge to say the least. It requires a workforce which provides pin-point precision and speed to production. It also needs designs and specification skills to ensure the brief is right at the very start as once production begins, minor errors at scale can be costly.  In addressing skill issues, Knauf offers training in its MMC products to enable constructors to quickly and effectively upskill their employees. For example, Knauf offers training for the Airless product, allowing labourers to easily get to grips with the system. Whereas GIFA Flooring and Corridor 400 are both easy to assemble systems which eliminate the need for specialist knowledge.

In aiding MMC and offsite designers, Knauf has recently launched a new and improved version of Planner Suite. This online tool is a three-in-one solution for simple product and system searches, immediate supporting data and Drywall Specification Documentation. It can be used as a digital hub for data and to enable easier designs through importing Knauf products into Revit and ArchiCAD. In effect, Planner Suite gives designers the tools to not only get it right first time but manage their specification from start to finish.


Proof in partnerships.

Offsite and modular building is an innovative and growing market. Whether it replaces traditional housebuilding or not, we at Knauf believe it’s the future of construction. It shows real promise in solving our immediate housing needs and fast tracking health and education projects.  Knauf product systems and solutions are already being used by large scale modular housebuilders. Through collaboration and partnership with volume builders like Modulous, who offer a digital solution for modular construction, we’re committed to supporting the industry innovate and develop more sustainable buildings.


CLICK HERE for more information on MMC and Offsite




Ensuring airtightness is rapidly becoming a key objective for both traditional and modern methods of construction (MMC). This is driven by a number of factors including the protection of a building’s structure, thermal comfort for the occupants – and perhaps most importantly of all – energy efficiency.

It is fast approaching 2025, and compliance with the Future Homes Standard (FHS) will become mandatory. The goal of FHS is to ensure that new homes built from 2025 onwards will produce 75-80% less carbon emissions than homes constructed under the current Building Regulations.1 The Government has already updated Part F2 and Part L3 of the current Building Regulations, which came into effect in June 2022. Part F refers to new standards of ventilation and Part L highlights the airtightness requirements, minimum energy performance targets for buildings and improved minimum insulation standards required for new builds, renovations, and extensions.  With all these changes coming to play, the drive towards more sustainable building cannot be ignored. One way to improve energy efficiency, is to ensure buildings are airtight.


Demands for airtightness in buildings

Airtightness is particularly important in the design of energy-efficient homes for reasons such as reducing heat loss, protecting the building the fabric from moisture in the air and reducing air leakages (uncontrolled ventilation).   To help meet demands, MEDITE SMARTPLY offers two environmentally conscious airtight products that are suited for traditional and modern methods of construction (MMC). Firstly, SMARTPLY PROPASSIV, a structural OSB/3 panel with integrated air barrier and vapour control properties. The other, SMARTPLY SURE STEP, an airtight, tongue and groove OSB/3 panel with a high-performance and durable coating.

SMARTPLY PROPASSIV can be used for the walls and ceilings. The panel is airtight and is designed for use as internal structural sheathing on the warm side of the insulation in timber frame construction systems.SMARTPLY PROPASSIV is certified as an airtight component by the Passive House Institute and therefore contributes to comply with the air permeability requirements set out by the Passive House Institute.

For flooring and roofing, there is SMARTPLY SURE STEP. Using SURE STEP as an airtight layer for flooring or decking can contribute to sustainable building practices as well as reduce the energy consumption for heating. Its unique coating also brings improved durability during the construction phase and slip resistance to the panel in all site conditions. SMARTPLY SURE STEP is certified airtight by the Passive House Institute.  Both products can be used together to form an airtight, opaque envelope in buildings, which forms a fundamental part of the design of airtight structures.

The importance of ventilation in airtight buildings

It is estimated that people spend around 80-90% of their time indoors,4 and so without proper ventilation, airtight structures can have poor indoor air quality.  Controlled ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR) is installed to stop this and is a requirement in Passive House buildings. This involves extracting hot air from wet rooms and supplying fresh air to living and bedrooms. The fresh air is filtered and is heated by the extracted air through a heat exchanger. In very cold climate, the fresh air can be heated through ground or air heat pumps.

SMARTPLY PROPASSIV has a distinctive green coating which offers consistent vapour resistance over the entire surface eliminating the need for additional Air and Vapour Control Layout (AVCL) membranes. The vapour control layer helps to prevent the transfer of vapour through materials by humidity or temperature differences through a process known as ‘vapour diffusion.’ Essentially, stopping air and moisture from escaping outside. This is especially important when it comes to timber frame constructions, as vapour transferring trough the fabric could condensate and cause long term damages to the timber frame structure.  As an example of how engineered wood panels can dramatically reduce embodied carbon outcomes, ‘live’ assessments were carried out using SMARTPLY PROPASSIV. The panels’ airtight performance was found to reduce heat loss by up to 90% in a typical building and up to 60% in a property constructed to current building standards.5

A sustainable material

When timber is managed responsibly, it can emerge as an exceptionally sustainable construction material. SMARTPLY OSB exemplifies this sustainability ethos, as it is manufactured from FSC® certified timber sourced from fast growing pine and spruce trees. Moreover, SMARTPLY OSB utilises logs from forest thinnings or top of the trees ensuring that all wood harvested is used.   Airtightness plays a pivotal role in energy-efficient homes. MEDITE SMARTPLY offers innovative airtight products like SMARTPLY PROPASSIV and SMARTPLY SURE STEP, which not only enhance airtightness but also contribute to sustainable building practices. In an era where sustainability, energy efficiency, and compliance with stringent standards are paramount, airtightness in MMC is not just a consideration but a fundamental requirement. MEDITE SMARTPLY’s innovative solutions not only meet these demands but also contribute to a more sustainable and environmentally conscious construction industry.




CLICK HERE to learn more about SMARTPLY products and its benefits to MMC





Situated seven degrees west of the Greenwich Meridian, and exposed to some of the harshest weather conditions anywhere in the British Isles, the Hebrides present a challenging location for building projects, prompting a recently-established building company to adopt offsite construction technologies which make full use of the technical and environmental benefits of West Fraser’s SterlingOSB Zero.


70-22’ Systems was established in 2022 by three business partners whose experience encapsulates architecture, education and manufacturing amongst other skills, and who decided to develop their own highly-insulated, modular timber building system.  Growing organically by providing bespoke packages to clients of parent business, Fraser Architecture, 70-22’ has already delivered properties on the Outer Hebrides; and has more than half a dozen schemes of different sizes in the pipeline for the coming year.

The trademarked system has been designed specifically to avoid the need for craneage, due to the inaccessibility of many sites, while the cellular component modules take the form of wall blocks, lintels and beams to span larger openings.  The SterlingOSB Zero is CNC machined and assembled in the workshop before being filled with Warmcel recycled paper insulation.

Significantly, the 70-22’ Systems design personnel were determined from the outset to utilise the West Fraser board because of its formaldehyde free formulation and the fact the material is manufactured in the North of Scotland, using mainly locally sourced softwood from well managed forests.

70-22’ Systems’ co-founder and Commercial Director, Alex Durie, commented:

“We use West Fraser’s SterlingOSB Zero to construct our ecological building components, that are prefabricated in our workshop utilising CNC technology to achieve 0.1mm tolerances for each beam and block.  It is the ideal material to use as the shell for our components, which are then filled with recycled insulation to achieve a building system that can achieve market leading thermal performance, with a U-value of 0.1 W/m²k, and excellent air-tightness, while maintaining a breathable floor, wall and roof construction. The added bonus of being formaldehyde-free, OSB enables us to build ecologically, utilising timber grown and processed in Scotland as we aim to limit the travel miles in each of our builds. The OSB produced by West Fraser has performed very well in our structural testing, with our system proving to be 1.6 times stronger than a traditional timber frame – and as our system arrives on site as a component that is pre-fabricated, pre-insulated and designed for manual handling, it is much quicker to assemble.”

Not only do all of the 70-22’ Systems structures exceed the thermal requirements of Section 6 to the Building Standards, Scotland, but can also be delivered as a Passivhaus compliant solution where the client or planning consent demand it.  In the medium to long term, the business is building a pattern book of standard house types and has plans to establish a pilot plant on the mainland.  The company will also be showcasing its system at the Self-Build and Renovation exhibition in Aviemore this autumn.

SterlingOSB Zero is available in a range of sizes and thicknesses up to 22mm as well as a T&G version ideal for flooring and decking applications.  The high performance panel product, free of added formaldehyde, has also earned BBA approval and meets the requirements of NHBC Technical.

As is always the case, West Fraser’s experienced technical team is available

to aid with product specification

CLICK HERE for downloadable data sheets



© Luleå University of Technology and the Application of FRCM: © University of Nottingham


Researchers from the University of Nottingham are collaborating with Luleå University of Technology in Sweden for the first time, on a project that aims to improve the resilience of the world’s bridges – making them safer and more sustainable as traffic levels rise.

The recent 26-month closure of Hammersmith Bridge due to concerns about cracking in the infrastructure, as well as the ongoing RAAC concrete crisis demonstrate that much of the UK’s current infrastructure is nearing, or has exceeded, its expected design life. With temperatures soaring due to climate change, and traffic levels gradually rising again post-pandemic, the speed of this deterioration is only increasing.

When it comes to bridges, it’s not economically or environmentally possible to simply replace them, meaning the only viable solution is to repair and strengthen them. In the UK alone, the cost of repairing bridges due to corrosion damage is estimated to cost millions of pounds.

Non-corrosive Fibre-Reinforced Polymer (FRP) composites are excellent strengthening systems for corrosion-damaged concrete structures, but they come with their own drawbacks, such as high price, high environmental impact due to resin use, and poor fire resistance. As a result, a new generation of composites has been developed – Fibre-Reinforced Cementitious Mortar (FRCM). FRCMs are compatible with concrete, breathable, resistant to fire, applicable on wet surfaces, sustainable, reversible, low carbon, and cost-effective – being at least 30% cheaper than FRPs.

The main goal of the Climate Adaptation for REsilient Bridges (CARE) project is to find durable and sustainable solutions by investigating how different temperatures and accumulated damage caused by repeated load cycles affect the performance of FRCM composites when used in bridge strengthening.

Dr Georgia Thermou, Assistant Professor in Structural Engineering at the University of Nottingham, said:

“Although experimental evidence has demonstrated the efficiency of FRCMs when it comes to improving undamaged structures, it has not been tested on more complex structural systems with accumulated damage or that have been subject to seasonal temperature changes.

“Our experiments and simulations will generate new knowledge, which will benefit the construction and composites industries by providing a sustainable solution for strengthening bridges and creating a new market for composites respectively. Additionally, it will greatly benefit society by providing safe and sustainable infrastructure that will contribute towards a greener economy and, crucially, minimise bridge closures or even failures.”

The CARE project has been funded by the Royal Society as part of its International Exchanges scheme, which allows scientists across the UK to collaborate with leading institutions overseas.

Professor Gabriel Sas, Head of Subject at Department of Civil, Environmental and Natural Resources Engineering at Luleå University of Technology, said:

“Collaboration across borders is essential for tackling the global challenges we face in infrastructure and sustainability. This partnership with the University of Nottingham allows us to combine our expertise in structural engineering and material science to develop innovative solutions for bridge resilience.”

Dr Jaime Gonzalez-Libreros, Associate Senior Lecturer at Luleå University of Technology, who will be collaborating closely with Prof. Sas and Dr. Thermou in the project, added:

“Our aim is not just to extend the lifespan of existing structures but to do so in a way that is economically viable and environmentally responsible. This project is a step forward in creating a sustainable future for our communities.”

Dr Thermou added:

“Being able to establish connections and collaborate with other leading universities across the world is crucial when it comes to sharing knowledge and finding solutions that multiple countries can benefit from, so I’m looking forward to working with Professor Sas and his research group to see what we can learn together over the next two years. I would also like to acknowledge Royal Society for supporting this effort and enabling the project to take place.”

Bespoke Fibrelite GRP composite trench covering solution, 82% lighter than cast iron

Once in a while, a product will come along whose performance will drive a change in standards across entire industries. Like stainless steel. Or concrete. Or a trench cover which is over 80% lighter than the cast iron traditionally used, eliminating the need for costly specialised lifting equipment and the accompanying health and safety hazards. And, unlike metal and concrete infill covers, it’s engineered from a GRP composite material which is inert and impervious to corrosion from water and salt, as well as many other corrosive constituents.


Changing The Standard For Health & Safety

Heavy metal trench covers come with inherent H&S hazards & often require specialised lifting equipment lightweight Fibrelite GRP trench covers eliminate manual handling risks

Fibrelite’s GRP composite trench and manhole covers are fast usurping metal and concrete covers to become the standard for high-performance industries like airports, commercial ports, leisure cruise terminals, military and defence, power generation (both traditional and renewables), and data centres, with companies like Magnox, The National Grid, all branches of the UK armed forces, and the world’s largest technology brands specifying Fibrelite covers for new build and retrofit projects.

Recent Installation: Port Cruise Terminal Upgrade, UK

As part of this Southern English Port’s cruise terminal upgrade project, Fibrelite was approached by the end-user, who was providing the Onshore Power Supply (OPS) systems. The port had previously considered installing cast iron trench covers to cover the 500 metres of trench housing the high-voltage power cables, but due to their weight (approximately 350 kg) and the additional associated overheads, they approached Fibrelite for a lighter alternative.

Fibrelite developed a bespoke covering solution made up of dozens of custom-sized F900 (90-tonne) load-rated GRP composite trench covers in varying dimensions to suit the specified trench rebate dimensions, which were 65 kg, 82% (285 kg) lighter than the cast iron alternative. The Fibrelite covers are light enough for safe removal with the site dolly, complying with the load rating requirement of the site.

Recent Installation: Major Southern UK Airport Off-Apron Lighting Pit Upgrade

At one of the UK’s busiest airports, Fibrelite designed and manufactured a retrofit replacement for manhole covers over off-apron runway lighting pits where onsite staff have a window of approximately two minutes to effect maintenance and/or repair works between take-offs and landings, including removing and replacing the F900 load rated access cover. The new lightweight GRP composite Fibrelite covers now allow safe, fast access to the lighting pits, maximising time for maintenance and minimising the risk of injury.


A Bright Future For Fibrelite

I’ve been a part of the Fibrelite journey since 2011, and it’s been exciting to play a part in driving the upgrade from traditional concrete and metal trench and manhole covers to GRP composites in myriad industries, especially those where manual handling is critical, and seeing how we’ve helped increase health and safety and performance in those industries. We expect to see more and more industries make the upgrade to Fibrelite composite covers, especially in mission-critical areas.

Jo Stott, Marketing Director, Fibrelite

CLICK HERE TO Explore Fibrelite’s technical case study library




The demand for affordable accommodations in Jasper National Park, located on the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains, is sky-high, so to speak.

A little over two million visitors come to Jasper every year in both summer and winter.

When Hostelling International (HI) Canada decided to increase the size of its Jasper hostel it opted to go modular.

To do so, it hired NRB Modular Solutions Inc., which built and installed 66 modules in a three-storey lodge 25,000-square-feet in area.

The modular rooms have several different configurations: 25 four-bed shared rooms, 17 private rooms and five family rooms.

Amenities include guest laundry, an onsite café, kitchen, patio with barbecue and a fire pit.

In addition, NRB built two staff accommodation buildings and a maintenance facility.

Shelbey Sy, director of marketing for HI Canada, says the organization chose modular over traditional construction for two reasons.

“Two key factors led to our decision to opt for modules over conventional construction,” says Sy. “Due to Jasper’s short construction season, it was much more practical to have the bulk of the building construction take place off-site (at NRB’s Kelowna, B.C. facility).

“By building in a climate-controlled interior environment, we were able to construct the hostel in a shorter period of time and under a more predictable cost and building timeline. This allowed us to plan the project and the date of its opening with greater confidence.”

Sy says HI Canada supports sustainability in its operations.

“The lower environmental impact of modular construction – because it requires fewer deliveries into the park, produces less waste and takes less time to construct – was also a key factor in our decision,” she says. “When combined with the uncertainties around Jasper’s weather conditions, modules over traditional construction was a clear choice for us.”

Sy says the new HI Jasper hostel “could not be more different” from the older facility.

“The former hostel was originally built as a day lodge for the Whistler Ski area before HI Canada transformed it to a hostel in 1979,” Sy says. “Reflecting the times, it was a wood-framed chalet, with large rooms and limited washroom facilities.

“The new hostel has nearly doubled our previous capacity and dramatically improves the hostel experience with space for 157 guests a night in private rooms and four-person shared rooms. It also has an onsite café as well as spacious and modern common areas.”

Sy says HI Jasper is the organization’s first experience with modular construction.

In addition to the Jasper hostel, NRB has built “a few” modular hotels, including a Hyatt Place in Prince George, says Craig Mitchell, a modular and off-site construction consultant with Blackbox Offsite Solutions in Vancouver.

“Before COVID, Marriott, Hilton and IHG (IHG Hotels and Resorts, which owns Holiday Inn) all had modular programs in the works,” says Mitchell.

“COVID caused the hospitality industry some pain and they are just restarting their build programs again and dusting off their modular prototypes.

citizenM (boutique hotels) is using steel modules from Europe and China.”

Mitchell says there are many examples of modular construction in the U.S. hospital industry.

“There are fewer in Canada, however, because the market here is smaller and less mature,” he says. “There are definitely good opportunities for the Canadian hospitality industry, because the uniformity in design works well with certain brands of hotels.”

Mitchell says two benefits of modular construction to the hospitality industry are low cost and speed of construction and installation.

“In addition, modular means quality and consistency across all brands, no matter where the hotel is located,” he says. “For major brands this is important, because many hospitality guests want to know what to expect when they visit. For example, a Fairfield Inn (franchised economy to mid-scale hotel brand of Marriott International) in Kamloops or Winnipeg or somewhere else. It’s the Starbucks or McDonald’s approach.”

Mitchell says modular hospitality industry properties are typically built with a podium or slab as the first floor, because of the requirement for high ceilings, with modular rooms installed above the podium.

“When done well, modular rooms are quiet, because of the built-up assemblies of the structure,” he says.

Mitchell says modular construction has a rosy future in the Canadian hospitality industry.

“But first we need more factories building better examples of modular hotel and hostel rooms and showing success,” he says. “There haven’t been enough success stories yet.”

Source: Daily Commercial News

Legal & General has been forced to dismantle modular homes on a site in Bristol after it found issues relating to the foundations.

The award-winning Bonnington Walk scheme comprised 185 homes built on land owned by Bristol City Council in Lockleazen and received a Masterplanning Award for Projects at Housing Design Awards 2021.

Those who had bought houses on the site are facing a lengthy delay of up to a year before moving in, and are now being offered compensation or can choose to cancel their purchase completely.

It was reported earlier this year that L&G would wind down the modular arm of its company after several years of consecutive losses. L&G Modular opened in 206 but a lack of demand led to the company reportedly accumulating losses of around £170million by 2021. The closure of the manufacturing site in Selby, Yorkshire was believed to put around 450 jobs at risk, with chief executive of L&G Modular, Rosie Toogood, also leaving the business.

A spokesperson for L&G said:

“Through our quality-assurance checks, we identified problems with the foundations of the site at Bristol that need to be rectified. We are working closely with our consultants and the warranty provider, National House Building Council (NHBC), to rectify these issues as quickly as possible.”

“In order to do this, we are removing existing modules, with new homes to be replaced on-site after the foundations have been rectified. No homes will be handed over to customers which do not meet the NHBC’s quality checks.”

“We have informed customers that it could take six to 12 months to resolve these issues and are committed to treating our customers fairly. Where there have been delays, we have offered them compensation, as well as the option of cancellation.”

Source: ShowHouse

TopHat, a company that builds factory-made modular houses, has completed a deal with France’s largest house builder as it seeks to expand into Europe.

The Goldman Sachs-backed firm said it had made an exclusive partnership with Nexity on Wednesday 14 June to “accelerate the development of offsite construction in France”.

TopHat will contribute its modular expertise to the partnership, it said, while Nexity will provide its experience with French construction and development programmes.

Nexity developed 18,000 homes last year, similar to the output of the UK’s largest house builder Barratt. The developer aims to have 10% of its houses built in factories by 2028, citing the reduced delivery times, higher environmental standards and energy efficiency of modular production.

The announcement comes as TopHat’s UK modular competitor Ilke Homes was fighting to secure its future. Ilke revealed last week it had paused factory operations and put itself up for sale. The company blamed issues with the planning system for its financial woes.

Unlike Ilke, which uses a land-led delivery model – in which the company buys land, secures planning permission and develops the site – TopHat only sells houses to third parties. About a third of its output is bought by housing associations, another third by developers, and the final third by build-to-rent providers.

Last month, Legal & General announced that it would stop production at its giant modular factory due to weak demand, leaving Ilke as TopHat’s last remaining major competitor in the UK modular sector.


Source: Inside Housing

James Morris, Technology Journalist

UK Power Grid Could Have First Commercial Fusion Reactor By 2030s

Science fiction writers have been touting fusion as the utopian future energy production technology for decades. After all, it is how the sun works, and that has been outputting energy for 4.6 billion years already, with about 5 billion more to go before it burns out. But while research has been going on apace to make nuclear fusion energy production a reality, so far nobody has achieved “net energy”, where more power is produced than is used to create the reaction. Now TAE Technologies reckons it will get there soon – and the first commercial installation could be in the UK.

“We are the longest standing pure play fusion power company,” says R. David Edelman, Chief Policy & Global Affairs Officer, TAE Technologies. “We were founded in 1998 with one goal in mind – to develop the cleanest, most commercially viable form of fusion energy.” TAE Technologies’ approach is to use boron-11 and hydrogen instead of deuterium-tritium (two isotopes of hydrogen), which is the more common fuel for current fusion reactors, because it is the easiest to fuse.

“One of the challenges that our founders identified was how you turn a reaction like that into a commercially viable power source,” says Edelman. “There are a number of advantages associated with boron-11 that don’t exist with some of the other fuels, specifically that the primary fusion reaction doesn’t produce a load of neutrons.” Although fusion in general doesn’t produce as many neutrons as nuclear fission, these are still very dangerous particles for the human body. “When you deal with neutrons, you deal with a device that is harder to manage, that might have to be replaced, that might need to be scrubbed out, that is harder to have people operate.”

This was why TAE Technologies chose hydrogen and boron-11 as fuel. “You’d have a machine that would be expensive to build in the first instance, but much cheaper to operate and could have a much longer life,” says Edelman. However, this kind of fusion reactor requires much higher temperatures than deuterium-tritium. To solve this problem, TAE Technologies was spun out of the University of California in Irvine, founded by Dr Norman Rostoker, with the help of Michl Binderbauer, who is now CEO.

Their insight was to marry traditional plasma physics with particle physics. Particle accelerators are used to drive and sustain the fusion reaction. This also generates a magnetic field, which contains the reaction, in a process called Field Reverse Configuration (FRC). The temperature of fusion means you can’t use any metal as a container – it would melt. Instead, a magnetic bottle is employed. Most fusion reactors employ external magnets. “Getting atoms to fuse is not the hard part,” says Edelman. “We’ve been doing that for decades. The hard part is keeping that reaction efficient enough to produce more energy out than it takes in. When you have a system like ours that produces its own magnetic field, suddenly you have a shortcut to reducing the amount of power you must put into the device to get exceptional output results.”

So far, TAE Technologies has built five experimental reactors, all based in California. The company is currently building an experimental machine that can exceed 100 million degrees, which is what is required for “net energy”. This is where the reactor outputs more energy than is being put in. “Our last device, called Norman after our founder, was able to get to 70 million degrees, so we are 70% of the way towards meeting that milestone,” says Edelman. “It was only built to get to 50 million degrees, but we were able to keep pushing, so we’re very optimistic. We’ve proven many of the core conditions that will allow us to reach that net energy milestone in a few years with our next device, which is called Copernicus.”

A key factor in TAE Technologies’ reactor is that its boron-11 fuel is both abundant and cheap. “It is in sand, it is in seawater,” says Edelman. “It can be extracted with great ease, and you need comparatively little of it for a fusion reaction. In fact, to power a fusion power plant at a typical scale – 350 to 500 megawatts output – you would only need a few hundred grams of boron for a year of operation.” Checking with science suppliers, at the time of writing Sigma-Aldrich will sell you 5g of Boron-11B oxide for $218, so the fusion fuel costs will be insignificant.

“That’s one of the core advantages because other fuels for fusion, like helium-3 and tritium, are hard to get,” says Edelman. “They involve very complex mining in places that are very hard to mine. Hydrogen, the other element in our reactor, is wildly abundant as well. There is no national monopoly on boron. Many countries have abundant supplies of it.” This contrasts with the radioactive uranium material used by nuclear fission reactors, which is concentrated in certain countries, such as Australia, Kazakhstan, Canada, and Russia. It’s also expensive and dangerous. “We’ve estimated that if the whole world were running on boron fusion power plants, we’d have 100,000-plus years of terrestrial supply before we would even begin to look elsewhere.”

This brings us to the role of the UK. Although TAE Technologies has so far built its reactors in California, the company has developed a strong presence in Britain. “We are one of the largest private fusion employers in the UK,” says Edelman. “We have over 200 people based in the West Midlands that are working on what we call our Power Solutions business. These are both the power supplies that help run our fusion machine, but also our efficient power drive trains and other power efficient power storage solutions that are usable right now for electric vehicles, to make them go further on the same battery chemistry and to make them charge faster.”

These are not necessarily direct fusion technologies, but what Edelman calls “fusion adjacent” – production skills that will smooth integration into a commercial ecosystem. The UK expertise TAE Technologies focuses on includes areas like batteries that can be used for utility scale grid storage for intermittent sources such as wind and solar. However, the UK does have strong fusion expertise as well, such as through the Joint European Taurus (JET) in Culham, Oxfordshire and the Spherical Tokomak for Energy Production (STEP) planned for West Burton on Nottinghamshire.

“The professionals in the British system identified early that there was a need for a distinct regime for fusion power plants and that the UK should be the first country in the world to advance it,” says Edelman. “The UK has exceptional talent in this that can lead to cutting edge and world leading fusion commercial work. The United Kingdom has positioned itself at the front of the pack for the world’s first commercial fusion plant.” This includes STEP, which aims for net energy by the 2040s.

The readily available supply chain in the UK drives costs down for companies developing fusion in the country and has intellectual property benefits as well. “There’s a lot of expensive intellectual property that goes into these devices,” says Edelman. “That means that companies like ours aren’t terribly interested in building them in places like China, and instead we’re interested in building them in places where we know there’s not just the necessary expertise, but also the clear rule of law to protect the core intellectual property that we have.”

This has led TAE Technologies to consider the UK for its first commercial “net energy” fusion reactor, supplying electricity to the grid. “We are looking very seriously to the UK for the first fusion power plant because all the factors we need are there to build at a price that it can start to move the needle for energy independence and net zero,” says Edelman. There are implications that this will be in the West Midlands, where TAE’s other UK interests are. But Edelman remains uncommitted about the location. “Our power supply team is in the West Midlands, but there are a lot of factors that would go into the specific siting of a fusion power plant.”

However, Edelman is more bullish about timeframe – and it will be well ahead of STEP. “We expect to have a first-of-its-kind fusion power plant on the grid early next decade,” he says. “We’re not talking 2040, we’re talking 2030, which means we must start building that plant in the latter part of this decade, so we need to have a location decided sometime mid this decade. We can then start to scale that towards mass production power plants that can be put into operation at full scale and start to bring down the cost of energy from fusion in the middle of the 2030s. That would be just in time to make a significant impact on climate because if your first fusion power plant isn’t in operation till 2045, 2050 is just around the corner.”

“Fusion can offer low impact, zero carbon, effectively limitless energy produced through a triumph of science,” concludes Edelman. “It can do this without the drawbacks of most other sources of energy. You can put fusion power plants where the power is consumed. You don’t need to put a fusion power plant offshore, or where it’s sunny all the time, or on top of a deposit of minerals. It can be put safely inside population centers, which can save the 20% of generated electricity that is lost in long distance transmission. Our kind of fusion power plant can be very compact – just a few hectares. It doesn’t need a large exclusion zone and the risks associated with it are no different than those of any industrial facility. Fusion can make up the yawning gap between the energy we know we need by 2050 and the energy that we know can be produced in low and no carbon ways by 2050.” And that gap could start to narrow in the UK sometime next decade.

Source: Forbes

Swegon takes its first step towards using fossil-free steel

This week, Swegon presented its first product made from carbon dioxide-reduced steel – a GOLD RX – at the ISH trade fair in Frankfurt. The manufacture of steel consumes large amounts of both resources and energy. As ventilation units are primarily made of steel, there is considerable potential to reduce the carbon footprint of embodied carbon in production, by replacing traditional steel with steel that has a lower climate footprint.

In January, the first delivery of XCarb® RRP (recycled and renewably produced) Magnelis from thesteel manufacturer ArcelorMittal was received at Swegon’s Kvänum factory, where the companymanufactures ventilation units. According to ArcelorMittal, XCarb® RRP Magnelis has anapproximately 70% lower CO2 footprint than traditionally manufactured steel. XCarb® RRP ismainly produced from recycled steel and uses 100% renewable energy in the manufacturing process.

The first concept air handling unit has now been produced, and the plan is to gradually introducecarbon dioxide-reduced steel into ongoing production, starting during the second quarter of this year.

“We are delighted to now be phasing in carbon dioxide-reduced steel in our large ventilation units.We all have to contribute and reduce our climate footprint, and this transition is enabling us toreduce not only our own, but also our customers’ footprint,” says Robert Siverby, Supply ChainDirector at Swegon Group.

Swegon has, for a long time, focused on sustainability and on reducing the climate footprint in theproduction as well as the use phase of its products. Swegon was among the first in the industry todevelop EPDs (Environmental Product Declaration) for its products, and has a significant amount ofEPDs in its portfolio.

Based on the existing EPD for GOLD RX, size 12, the total Global Warming Potential (GWP) isexpected to be reduced by approximately 20% with the transition to XCarb® RRP Magnelis steel,given that all the steel is replaced. The introduction of XCarb® RRP is a first step in the company’sjourney towards fossil-free steel.