UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources


Symposium 2013: Sustainable Resources for Sustainable Cities

Cities or, more broadly, urban areas - densely packed, complex, built systems - are home to over half the of world’s population.

With this trend of increasing urbanisation worldwide, urban sustainability has been identified as a key area of societal relevance, an area in which a solid research base can inform policy and practice. 

The Grand Challenge of Sustainable Cities (GCSC) exists to initiate and support cross-disciplinary research into urban sustainability. Sustainability in the urban context is inextricably linked to resource flows. Among the minimum requirements for a city’s population are housing, food, safe water, waste disposal, and energy for heating and cooling. 

Cities must draw on global resource networks to provide the raw materials to build new infrastructure, maintain current systems and retrofit existing buildings. Cities also generally rely on a ‘hinterland’ to supply the energy, food, water and other resources they require. Sustainable cities rely on the sustainable provision and use of resources, and this reliance provides a clear link between GCSC and the work of the Institute for Sustainable Resources. 

The symposium specifically looked to address the challenges around provision of resources for growing urban populations, with regard to the physical built environment, infrastructure, transport and water.  It aimed to address the question of how cities can continue to meet their present needs without compromising the future of the city, the region or the planet.

The symposium attracted over 200 registered participants and focused on themes such as urban metabolism, cities in transition, resource supply and demand, and putting research into action. Our keynote speaker Professor Herbert Giradet from the World Future Council presented a glimpse of his upcoming new book 'Creating Regenerative Cities' and presentations covered many fascinating topics including medical reasons for urban biodiversity, new tools for water planning, intelligent new materials and examples of research from the UCL Bartlett's Bio Urban Design Lab.

The Cities in Transition panel discussion on the second day chaired by Dr Michele Acuto, Senior Lecturer in Global Networks & Diplomacy, STEaPP at UCL included a high profile list of speakers such as Inge Paulini, Charles Clarke, Lily Song, Tadj Oreszczyn, Yacob Mulugetta, and Vanesa Castan Broto. 


Grant winners

Sustainable Resources for Sustainable Cities Catalyst Grants

The UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources and UCL Grand Challenge for Sustainable Cities awarded five £5,000 catalyst grants as part of the 2013 BHP Billiton Sustainable Communities/UCL Grand Challenges Symposium.

Catalyst Grants were aimed at enabling researchers to develop realistic and relevant research partnerships across disciplines, and research strategies with the potential for significant national or international impact. These grants were designed to facilitate the development of projects which have the potential to produce on-going research activity. 

The winners of the 2013 Catalyst Grants are as follows:

  • Population Change and Energy Consumption in the Urban Transition
  • Common Road to 2050: Energy Networks and Policy Design
  • Delivery of Urban Biodiversity Networks
  • Algal Bio-fuels for Sustainable Transport
  • Reducing Resource Use in the Household
Sustainable Building Products Research Grant

Congratulations to the winner of our £15,000 award for research into the use of sustainable building products

Project title: The application of inorganic Phase Change Material thermal stores in sustainable building design in Europe

Project lead: Oliver Wilton, Senior Teaching Fellow, The Bartlett School of Architecture

Collaborators: Jake Hacker, CISBSE/RAE Visiting Professor and Senior Teaching Fellow, UCL Energy Institute. Nick Hopper, Technical Director, Monodraught Ltd.

Project description: The project will address the applicability of inorganic PCM (Phase Change Material) thermal stores in sustainable building design in Europe with the objectives of evaluating the viability and identifying environmental benefits and any potential disbenefits. 

PCM thermal stores in buildings have the potential to provide significant energy savings by delivering highly controllable passive summertime cooling (helping to combat the ever-increasing use of active cooling) and wintertime tempering of incoming air (eliminating cold draughts associated with discomfort and that can result in a raising of the heating set point). 

The development of controllable passive cooling and the tempering of incoming air is particularly timely given the following developments in the construction industry:

  • Statutory requirements are incrementally raising thermal insulation and air tightness levels in new buildings. This can increase the potential for summertime overheating.
  • Timber frame construction is being increasingly used and this can offer significant reductions in
  • Proposed research activities

The principle results of this research will be the development and of a broader understanding of the potential role of non-organic PCM thermal stores in sustainable architecture in Europe, including potential benefits and disbenefits, and also the development, prototyping, testing and evaluation of a new PCM thermal store product/system. 

Project Outcomes: The project addresses the applicability of phase-change material (PCM) thermal stores in sustainable building design in Europe and progress to this point has included the following.

Weather data analysis has indicated that PCM thermal stores could be beneficially deployed to provide low-energy cooling across Europe where more energy intensive cooling would typically be used in buildings occupied during the daytime hours.

The designs for several new applications of PCM thermal stores in building-integrated arrangements have been developed. These applications are mostly suited to integration within new building designs. The performance of three of these designs is now being tested by Arup and Monodraught using building performance modelling tools.

The designs for several new product-based PCM thermal store applications have been developed. These are discrete PCM thermal store applications that are well suited to retrofitting to existing buildings, as well as being suited to new-build applications. A physical prototype of one of these designs is now being developed and its performance will be tested by Monodraught.