Team behind Qatar 2022 World Cup cooling system receive UK government energy innovation grant

Business Secretary Greg Clark MP announced a new £440,000 grant towards a £560,000 energy project developed in partnership with the University of Sheffield.

View from inside the Education City Stadium in Doha, Qatar

University spin-off company Free Running Buildings has been awarded the funding by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) as part of their Thermal Efficiency Innovation Fund.

Led by mechanical engineer and energy expert, Dr Ben Hughes, Free Running Buildings will use the grant to support knowledge transfer around heat recovery in super-insulated buildings.

Creating a building which is warm, cool or well ventilated is easy but creating one which does this naturally takes skill and expertise and that’s why Free Running Buildings was created.

Dr Ben Hughes

Managing Director, Free Running Buildings

Using patented technology, the company plans to bring the UK’s leading expertise around ‘building physics’ to the marketplace, developing and deploying passive cooling and ventilation systems for residential and commercial applications.

Passive heating, cooling and ventilation designs aim to maximise the use of natural sources to create comfortable conditions inside buildings. This could include harnessing solar radiation, cool night air and air pressure differences to manage the internal environment.

As Managing Director Dr Ben Hughes, explains:

“Creating a building which is warm, cool or well ventilated is easy but creating one which does this naturally takes skill and expertise and that’s why Free Running Buildings was created.

“The main aim of our work is to help maintain sufficient heat recovery and ventilation rates without compromising air-tightness requirements, so we can achieve an energy-efficient system within a building with enhanced thermal comfort for its occupants.

“The grant will support us to transfer the knowledge and expertise we have developed in previous passive cooling projects and apply it to heat recovery in super-insulated buildings in the UK – supporting the development and use of innovative technologies for increased energy efficiency.

Established in 2014, Free Running Buildings specialises in designing cost-effective technology to create thermally-comfortable indoor environments, whilst using minimal energy consumption.

We want to lead the world in designing and building safe, smart, energy efficient, affordable homes and commercial buildings."

Dr Ben Hughes

Managing Director

Previous projects have taken them around the globe and into the world of football, including a project developing cooling strategies for stadiums ahead of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Partnered with the University of Sheffield, Free Running Buildings also utilises the manufacturing expertise of the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in the city. Managing Director, Dr Hughes, is a Reader in Energy at the Department for Mechanical Engineering and also part of the Energy 2050 research institute, both part of the University of Sheffield.

The innovation funding will be used by the organisation to capitalise on advancements in low-cost additive manufacturing, supporting the development of a novel method of heat transfer within passive ventilation systems.

This can then be scaled up to mass production for use as both a retrofit solution and for more energy-efficient new builds.

As Dr Hughes continues:

“Heating and temperature control takes up a significant proportion of energy consumption in the UK and so with this grant and the knowledge transfer it will support, we will be able to help develop solutions that householders and building managers can integrate – bringing them into line with the demands of the modern built environment and being more energy efficient as a result.”

Enabling a smarter, more efficient energy system is a priority for the UK, with the government committing up to £70 million to support smart energy system innovation. Across government, Innovate UK, Research Councils, and BEIS around £265 million is expected to be invested in smart systems research, development, and demonstration.

During his speech at the Northern Powerhouse Business Summit on 5th July, Business Secretary Greg Clark MP said:

"Our next challenge is to make the buildings we live and work in more efficient. This is vitally important. Buildings account for around 30% of total emissions and around 40% of final energy consumption in the UK. We want to lead the world in designing and building safe, smart, energy-efficient, affordable homes and commercial buildings.

"So today, I am delighted to announce, the winners of two £10 million innovation competitions which will support companies as they pioneer energy-efficient technologies. The successful applicants include northern companies such as Free Running Buildings... who are pioneering low energy ventilation technology.”

You can read the speech in full here.

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