Optimising Our Environmental Resources

In an era where the urgency of climate change demands bold action, the construction industry is simultaneously part of the problem and a potential solution. Chloe Donovan, Managing Director, at Natural Building Systems explains more.

Despite growing awareness and regulatory pressure, traditional methods and materials still dominate the landscape. It's time to challenge the status quo and embrace innovative solutions using timber and bio-based materials to offer superior performance and adaptability.  

Natural Building Systems was founded in 2019 with a mission to disrupt the construction industry by integrating advanced bio-composites into pre-manufactured structural elements. Our approach combines materials technology, digital tools, and building physics to offer a ground-breaking alternative to conventional construction practices. There are also many misconceptions surrounding durability and fire resistance of bio-based materials, that are hindering the widespread adoption of potentially regenerative materials.  We need to challenge these misconceptions head-on.

Our goal is to use annual and regenerative crops that are more easily integrated in local farming rotations and alleviate pressures on global forestry that is being exacerbated by the construction industries demand for timber. The most promising is industrial hemp, which has inherent moisture buffering capacity, while Miscanthus and paludiculture crops show great promise for composite boards. 

ADEPT® is our circular, systemised kit-of-parts. At the heart of ADEPT® lies HempSil®, our unique bio-composite made from industrial hemp and used alongside two layers of natural fibre insulation. These materials insulate our breathable cassette system, allowing better indoor air-quality, and moderating relative humidity and temperature to reduce energy use. The structural cassettes are precision engineered and akin to flat-pack furniture, allow for rapid assembly by non-specialist labour. The system is adaptable, enabling buildings to evolve and accommodate changing needs over time.  

Our natural materials capture more carbon from the atmosphere than is emitted during production, meaning buildings we make act as carbon sinks, combating climate change, and providing more energy efficient and healthier places to live.   

We optimise material efficiency by using digital fabrication to minimise waste and improve build quality. Cassettes are made from OSB, reducing reliance on high value timber (OSB is manufactured from forestry waste streams, utilising the upper part of trees that can't be processed into timber). We are developing local supply chains of industrial hemp – a short cycle carbon capture crop that can be grown anywhere globally, and has been shown to enhance biodiversity, improve soil quality and subsequent food crop yields.  

Collaboration is key to realising our vision of a sustainable built environment and we have been working closely with Simple Works, our structural engineers, to ensure that ADEPT® cassettes have been designed to be used on their own, or within an integrated frame as part of a larger construction, allowing the system to be used in buildings of any size.  Structural connections are designed to be reversible and minimise the need for mechanical fixings. Connection typologies include innovative spline pegs, allowing shear transfer between cassettes, and French cleats which pull the components together. The system is interoperable with a diverse pallet of conventional materials, products, and systems and can be specified in a wide range of buildings.   

Utilising integrated digital design and manufacturing tools is central to our ambition to ensure scalability across a distributed manufacturing network, offering cost competitive solutions. Parametric design tools streamline the digital workflow by generating concept options against different design constraints, optimising material efficiency with real-time feedback on costs and carbon.   Carbon transparency and circularity is facilitated throughout using product passports, embedded in every component, so that detailed BIM data is available during design, production, assembly, and then throughout a building's service life. Circularity is aided by access to product information because future upgrades and replacements are easier with direct substitution of manufactured components.   

Chronic low productivity in conventional construction practice requires a substantive answer in modern methods of construction (MMC), but definitional categories (and high CapEx associated with Cat 1 modular in particular) deflect attention from greater efficiencies available through a focus on pre-manufactured value. Our vision brings together the unexplored possibilities of advanced bio-composites with optimised structural timber solutions, while fully un-tapping the potential of emerging digital technologies in construction to transform our buildings into carbon sinks. 

Image: Chloe Donovan, Managing Director, Natural Building Systems

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