Saturday, April 18, 2009

Old tyres are put to good use in a building constructed with energy-saving features.

Thousands of used tyres are being used to form the foundation
of new shopping complex Space U8 in Shah Alam.
This revolutionary construction technique creates a heat sink
that will help cool the interior of the building naturally

Tuesday April 7, 2009
Foundation of tyres

Old tyres are put to good use in a building constructed with energy-saving features.

BUILDINGS are the world’s biggest energy guzzler, using more than two thirds of the power produced and contributing to 40% of global carbon footprint, from the construction and maintainance of the building itself.

With those facts in mind, local developer Mainstay Development Sdn Bhd decided to make its new Shop Unit Mall Office development complex in Shah Alam as environmentally friendly as possible. One of the measures taken towards that goal is an unusual one – incorporating almost 220,000 used rubber tyres into the foundation of the building.

Called Space U8 to denote the spaciousness of the building, the complex will be the first ever commercial building to utilise the revolutionary Smart and Cool Homes technology invented and patented by Lincoln Lee. The system uses tyres to create a heat sink that drains the heat from walls built with autoclaved aerated concrete bricks, thus making the building interior cooler and minimising air-conditioning needs.

Located in Bukit Jelutong, the complex spans 3.2ha and consists of 58 units of four-storey shops and offices as well as two basement floors. A large 6,300sqm courtyard in the middle of the complex is the jewel of the building’s crown and the main beneficiary of the Smart and Cool Homes technology.

“The courtyard is the centrepiece of the building and we plan to use it for activities and as a community area. We want to use as little energy as possible to cool it,” said Raja Mohd Azmi Raja Razali, executive chairman of Mainstay Development.

“With this system, the temperature can be lowered by 2°C to 3°C. So there might not be a need for air-conditioning. It won’t be cold but it will be cool and comfortable, with proper wind flow taken into account.”

Lee said the technology saved money that would otherwise be spent on cooling the building. “The biggest bill a building management has to pay every month is usually the one for air-conditioning. But here, they can save 50% to 60% of the electricity used for cooling.”

Besides utilising the Smart and Cool Homes system, the Space U8 building will also incorporate a solar photovoltaic system (around 138 kilowatt peak) on the roof of the courtyard to generate electricity. “The idea is to use solar energy to power common areas as much as we can. Anything extra will be passed to the grid,” said Raja Azmi. “We are also considering the use of solar thermal air-conditioning to reduce the reliance on electricity from the grid to power the air-conditioning.”

To top it all off, the roof of the courtyard is specially designed to receive lots of natural light and provide for optimum temperature and insulation control.

Green space

When Mainstay Development began designing the building, the thought of making it green was already in the plan, though not in a major way.

“We were already looking at energy-saving solutions like energy-efficient light bulbs, energy-saving devices for our car parks that will save about 45% of our energy usage and so on,” said group chief executive officer Ang Teck Seong. Ang then caught wind of Lee’s unique construction method and decided to check it out.

Lee, the 47-year-old executive director of property developer Value Yield, has been building energy-efficient homes with cool interiors that do not require air-conditioning for over 11 years. After paying Lee a visit at his home in Semenyih (which was also built with his technology), Raja Azmi and Ang made the groundbreaking decision of adopting Lee’s technology for their shopping complex.

While the Smart and Cool Homes system has proven to work in residential homes, it is now put to the test on a commercial building for the first time.

“We had to change the entire perception of how to build a building and the engineers were not happy about it,” said Ang with a laugh. “But we know that Lincoln has done this successfully for houses, and we convinced the engineers that it is a workable system.”

When completed, the building will be the largest man-made heat sink created with used tyres in the world – with an estimated 220,000 tyres used in the building foundation, a number that will rise to half a million eventually.

The bigger picture

“We’re definitely taking a risk because it has not been done before and might have some technical issues. It is also going to cost more because of the tyres, solar panels and so on,” said Raja Azmi. “But we agreed that this is something good and worth doing, and we are willing to make sacrifices from a financial and time standpoint to accommodate this.”

To illustrate how much the company has sacrificed, he gave an example – the building foundation was already in an advanced stage of development when Lee came onboard.

“We slowed down construction to incorporate the tyres into the structure. That was quite inconvenient for us,” said Raja Azmi.

Lee estimated that if he had been involved in the project from the start, they would have saved at least RM10mil. Instead, they now will incur an additional RM4mil to RM5mil just to accommodate the tyres in the building foundation.

“Most businessmen won’t do something like this! Maybe as first-time developers, we’re na├»ve enough to take that plunge,” said Raja Azmi with a laugh.

Mainstay Development executive chairman Raja Mohd Azmi Raja Razali (right) and Lincoln Lee,
inventor of the Smart and Cool Homes technology,
at the construction site of the new Space U8 shopping complex.

“We could have just sold the shoplots and washed our hands of it. But we’re in this for the long term. We’ll be managing the complex ourselves and the anchor building will still be owned by us, as well as the car park and the centre courtyard. Therefore, we control the key elements of the building. That is why we are willing to invest in this.”

They also hope to create awareness that global warming is a very real threat, and to lead by example. But Raja Azmi reckoned that developers cannot fight that war on their own.

“The Government should come up with an incentive to encourage developers to do these things. Materials like solar panels can be expensive and not everyone would want to do it. So there must be some incentives for developers like us to want to do it,” he said.

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