Adhesive-Free Timber Buildings project

This experiment aims to develop a 100%-timber building system, using 100% sustainably sourced materials to create a lab space for the continuing research of the Institute of Integrative Biology from the University of Liverpool.

Background to the research

One of the key strategic objectives of Ness Botanic Gardens is supporting research projects that focus on conserving plant and animal biodiversity. The Brian Moss Aquatic Mesocosm Facility is one of Europe’s largest, most technologically advanced facilities for investigating environmental impacts on freshwaters. The facility has undergone extensive renovation over the last four years thanks to a £1.2M Natural Environment Research Council grant awarded to Dr Stew Plaistow from the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Integrative Biology. But the facility lacked a laboratory space for processing samples on site. So when Dr Dan Bradley from the School of Engineering approached Ness Director, Matthew Clough to ask if they could build a prototype adhesive-free timber building at Ness, Matthew realised the potential to link two ‘green’ research projects together.

The science

In order to meet demanding targets for the reduction of its environmental impact, the construction industry needs innovative alternatives to steel and concrete. Timber construction offers huge savings in cost, weight, and carbon emissions. Timber is also one of the very few industrial materials that can be 100% sustainable.

The Adhesive-Free Timber Buildings (AFTB) project with lead investigator Dr Zhongwei Guan, is supported by  a four-year, €4.8M European Regional Development Agency grant awarded to six European partners from England, Ireland, France, Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium. The aim of the project was to develop a 100%-timber building system, characterise its structural properties, and demonstrate its utility for the construction industry.

The AFTB system uses beams, panels and connections bonded with densified wooden dowels, replacing the glue that is conventionally used. A heated hydraulic press compresses cheap, sustainably-harvested timber. This generates a product that is stronger than tropical hardwoods and performs as well as steel for many construction applications. The project has produced three ‘demonstrator’ structures using the technology in Epinal, France; Dresden, Germany and here at Ness.  The Ness structure is the only one designed to be used as a functional workspace. It is therefore the first building in the world to be constructed using this compressed wood technology!

Demonstrators are critically important in the construction industry; they reassure potential end-users that the technology is safe and acceptable to building regulators. Local businesses, SticX Ltd and Cunliffe’s Architects partnered with the University to design and deliver the structure.  It will be used primarily as a research and teaching laboratory. The building will also generate research data as sensors measure structural performance over time.


Diagram showing the assembly of the innovative all-timber connection system

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