Friday, 22 July 2016

BCA SkyLab: PM Lee launches $4.5 million Building and Construction Authority research centre

Revolving lab to test ideas for 'energy' buildings
BCA SkyLab to test technologies that can create buildings that make more energy than they use
By Samantha Boh, The Straits Times, 21 Jul 2016

A revolving laboratory, perched on a roof eight storeys high, will take Singapore closer to constructing buildings that not only make as much energy as they use, but also produce more energy than they consume.

The 132 sq m research centre - the size of two three-room flats - was launched yesterday and is the brainchild of the Building and Construction Authority (BCA).

It will be used to test-bed technologies to bring more "positive energy" buildings to life.

Positive-energy buildings are those that can produce more energy than they consume by, for instance, harnessing solar energy, while cutting energy use with more efficient air-conditioning or lighting systems.

The medium-term aspiration is to develop such positive-energy low-rise and medium-rise buildings that are energy self-sufficient, and energy-efficient high-rise buildings, said Dr John Keung, chief executive of BCA.

Launching the BCA SkyLab at the BCA Academy in Braddell, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that as the Republic's economy developed, its building activities grew in scale and complexity, and the focus is now on environmental sustainability.

"The BCA SkyLab that we are opening today will play an important role in our environmental sustainability drive," he said.

The $4.5 million rotatable lab, which takes 30 minutes for one round to be completed, will allow researchers to test new systems with actual weather and climatic conditions, as opposed to simulating them using historical data that may not be accurate due to climate change.

The centre was developed in collaboration with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, which has a similar rotating lab suited for a temperate climate.

The BCA facility is the first of its kind in the tropics.

"The good thing about a rotatable lab is that you can tune it by a few degrees and see if it makes a difference," said Dr Keung.

So if a research team has tested a technology when the lab faces east, rotating it by 20 degrees anti-clockwise will mean it now faces the north-east, and the team can tell if the effectiveness of the system is affected, he explained.

"It gives you the flexibility to answer many 'what ifs'."

The lab comprises a test cell - where the new technology being developed will be installed - and a reference cell that will mimic a conventional room.

Changes in temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide levels and other conditions will be tracked by more than 200 sensors.

A system that uses blinds coated with a reflective material to direct sunlight into the room - hence reducing the need for artificial lighting, is now being tested - said a BCA spokesman.

The system can also tilt the blinds automatically according to the intensity and direction of the sun to reduce glare, and has so far been shown to cut energy use by 15 per cent to 20 per cent.

According to the BCA, there are at least four projects lined up to be tested from now until the end of 2018.

The $62 million Academic Tower, on which the BCA SkyLab sits, is also one of Singapore's greenest buildings. It uses 35 per cent less energy than other buildings of a similar size and type, thanks to a suite of eco-friendly features.

These include six sun pipes, which are circular fixtures on the roof that direct sunlight into the rooms one floor below. This way, lamps in the room need to be turned on only at night or when it is raining.

The building will also serve as a living lab for students to experience first-hand how a building "interacts" with its occupants.

Students can, for example, view exposed piping and ducting to learn how mechanical and electrical systems work.

Dr Keung said the building sector is more than hardware, technologies and facilities.

"Building capability in our people forms the core in changing the way we build, and we have to innovate to position our (building sector) practitioners and future talents ahead of the game," he said.

Singapore must do better in workplace safety - far too many accidents: PM Lee
By Samantha Boh, The Straits Times, 21 Jul 2016

Singapore needs to do better in ensuring safe workplaces, and in improving the productivity and quality of talent in the construction industry, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

Speaking at the launch of a new research centre at the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) Academy, he said there are still "far too many" workplace accidents and deaths, and that the construction sector is a major contributor.

While major but non-fatal workplace injuries in the construction sector fell from 202 in 2014 to 157 last year, the number of fatalities remained at 27.

Overall, there were 42 workplace deaths in the first half of this year, 13 more than the number in the same period last year.

"Every life lost is too many. And when we push for higher productivity, it cannot be at the expense of safety," said Mr Lee.

Construction methods are also still labour-intensive and time-consuming. There are now 350,000 foreign construction workers, and continuing to rely heavily on low-skilled manpower is not sustainable, he added.

He commended the BCA for driving the adoption of more productive construction methods, including the Design for Manufacturing and Assembly approach, by which structures are made off-site and then assembled on-site.

He said it is also vital to develop talent, such as by introducing new training programmes on the latest technologies.

Buildings are more than mere bricks and mortar, said Mr Lee, and reflect the ethos of society, one that is inclusive and forward- looking, and in pursuit of an environmentally sustainable and safe environment.

"Then we can have good buildings - well built, efficiently built, and safely built, meeting human needs, showing off a modern city - (as) an element of the endearing home that all of us share," he said.

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