Public Release: 

Building scientific innovation into the construction sector

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council

Two of the UK's Innovation and Knowledge Centres (IKCs), which work closely with industry on research to radically change the construction and management of infrastructure, and to use the surfaces of buildings as solar power stations, are to receive a further £3.8 million of collaborative research funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

The funds are to build on their achievements in accelerating the commercialisation of world class science and emerging technologies. The Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction (CSIC), which is based at the University of Cambridge, will receive nearly £2.2 million to:

  • develop a team dedicated to deploying novel technologies and processes
  • scale up and standardise technologies for early adoption by industry
  • develop wider applications for technologies
  • extend the range of sectors that research is directed towards

The Sustainable Product Engineering Centre for Innovative Functional Industrial Coatings (SPECIFIC) based at Swansea University will receive £1.65 million to:

  • expand its solar energy research - working with the universities of Bath and Oxford
  • commercialise solar water purification technology with Surrey University
  • work with the University of Manchester on bio-inspired coatings
  • commercialise a heated floor tile

This new funding brings the combined investment from the EPSRC and the Technology Strategy Board, the UK's innovation agency, in each Centre to over £9 million.

The IKCs are a key component of the UK's approach to the commercialisation of emerging technologies through creating early stage critical mass in an area of disruptive technology. IKCs are able to achieve this through their international quality research capability and access to companion technologies needed to commercialise research.

Based in a university they are led by an expert entrepreneurial team. While continuing to advance the research agenda, they create impact by enhancing wealth generation of the businesses with which they work.


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Notes to Editors:

1. Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK's main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. EPSRC invests around £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone's health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK.

2. The Technology Strategy Board

The Technology Strategy Board is the UK's innovation agency. Its goal is to accelerate economic growth by stimulating and supporting business-led innovation. Sponsored by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), the Technology Strategy Board brings together business, research and the public sector, supporting and accelerating the development of innovative products and services to meet market needs, tackle major societal challenges and help build the future economy. For more information please visit

3. Innovation and Knowledge Centres

Innovation and Knowledge Centres are centres of excellence with five years' funding to accelerate and promote business exploitation of an emerging research and technology field. Their key feature is a shared space and entrepreneurial environment, in which researchers, potential customers and skilled professionals from both academia and business can work side-by-side to scope applications, business models and routes to market.

Invitations to submit to a third call for Innovation and Knowledge Centres were sent to university Vice-Chancellors in October 2009 following a call announcement at Innovate '09.

This call built on the successes of the previous four IKCs which were funded through a pilot call in November 2005 and a subsequent call in 2007:

  • Advanced Manufacturing Technologies for Photonics and Electronics - Exploiting Molecular and Macromolecular Materials at the University of Cambridge
  • Ultra Precision and Structured Surfaces at Cranfield University
  • Regenerative Therapies and Devices at the University of Leeds
  • Centre for Secure Information Technologies at Queen's University Belfast

4. Swansea University - Sustainable Product Engineering Centre for Innovative Functional Industrial Coatings

Every day more solar energy falls on the Earth's surface than the whole of human kind will use in 27 years. At this point we do little to harvest this energy. Buildings are major consumers of energy and yet they are often clad in metal and glass, both materials which can be capable of sophisticated engineering. In the UK annual production of metal and glass for construction of the outside faces of buildings is running at around 300 million square metres per annum.

The aim of SPECIFIC is to rapidly adapt excellent small scale devices that have been demonstrated in UK universities, scale up their application and ensure their stability so that the outsides of buildings can become active surfaces, essentially converting buildings into power stations. The key feature will be to combine technologies such that the panels will generate, store and release energy. This will create a whole new manufacturing sector for the UK as well as making a serious contribution towards our renewable energy targets and reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

In the first two years SPECIFIC has developed a full pilot manufacturing facility to enable the manufacture of one square metre panels of functional coated materials on any substrate (glass, steel, aluminium, plasterboard, wood) which can be applied to buildings at demonstration scale. These production facilities build on the world class labs that were part of the nine month start-up phase for the IKC.

Three principal concepts have developed considerable momentum and are the focus for the next phase of the project;

(1) the 'hot tile' concept is a functional coating that uses DC electricity to heat raised access floor panels common in most buildings such as offices, schools, hospitals and supermarkets built in the last 15 years. It allows for new build and retrofitting of a low energy electrical heating system that can eliminate the need for a gas connection and wet trades.

(2) a new heat treatment method has been applied to a titanium dioxide coating used as part of the photovoltaic development which is able to sinter the film (making it robust) whilst at the same time retaining the crystal structure and surface area required for high photoactivity. This has been used as a single coat solar water purification coating which has reduced the decolouration time of dyed water from eleven hours to four minutes. This has obvious applications in developing countries where UK textiles are manufactured.

(3) emerging PV technologies; the centre has developed an innovative solid state dye sensitised solar cell design in conjunction with BASF. Much of the learning in this project (in terms of electrode design and device optimisation) is directly transferable to other emerging solar cell types such as the earth abundant PV made of copper, zinc, tin and sulphur (attractive since it contains no rare or toxic elements) or the perovskite meso-scopic solar cell first reported in 2012. Much of this work will be conducted at the IKC funded by a recently announced £6 million grant from the Welsh Government under the Ser Cymru (Welsh Stars) programme. In addition, in a side project the team have developed a novel self-cleaning surface based on hydrophobins which can be applied to provide an ultra-hydrophobic or hydrophilic surface. These have obvious applications in solar devices on buildings as well as a number of other areas and a fourth strand of work with Manchester University in a one year feasibility study entitled Bio-Coat.

5. University of Cambridge - Smart Infrastructure and Construction

Research at the Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction (CSIC) focuses on innovative use of emerging technologies in sensor and data management (e.g. fibre optics, MEMS, computer vision, power harvesting, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and Wireless Sensor Networks) coupled with emerging best practice in the form of applying the latest manufacturing and supply chain management approaches to construction and infrastructure. It aims to develop completely new markets and achieve breakthroughs in performance. The outputs of the Centre will provide the construction industry and infrastructure owners and operators with the means to ensure that very challenging new performance targets can be met. Furthermore, the potential breakthroughs will make the industry more efficient and profitable. They will give UK companies a competitive advantage in the increasingly global construction market. CSIC works closely with a large network of industry partners in developing the Centre's strategic direction and in collaborative projects. To date, the Centre has over 30 demonstration projects and case studies. In this Tranche 2 funding stage the team seek to build on the research and demonstration projects carried out in the Core programme and the Tranche 1 Collaborative Projects, with a strong focus on developing the outputs of these projects to be market ready, through development of the technologies into products and through standardisation of the deployment of sensor technologies in infrastructure environments and of the analysis of the data produced.

The Centre has created an 'incubator team' who will carry out product development activities and will deploy sensor technologies in the field, further demonstrating and refining CSIC's capability and demonstrating the value of this capability to the market. The team will be constituted so that it can respond rapidly to client demand for demonstration and deployment of technologies and interpretation of data, creating maximum value for our industry partners.

This will result in a number of outputs designed to catalyse widespread uptake in the infrastructure industry, including:

1) Specific commercialisation opportunities for the technologies through joint ventures, spin outs or licensing of IP;

2) Consulting services, deploying sensors to assist clients e.g. in monitoring sensitive structures during construction, understanding live performance of assets or designing new assets efficiently based on data from monitored assets;

3) Development of best practice guidance for structural health monitoring of assets, deployment of sensor networks, and analysis of data; and

4) Development of training packages for industry In addition to this, CSIC will carry out further research to expand the capability of the Centre's technologies into new areas, as identified by its industry partners through meetings and workshops.

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