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Low Carbon building at Nottingham University destroyed in High Carbon Fire

As the wonderful Delingpole puts it, timber framed buildings have been banned in the UK since the Great Fire of London in 1666. But in 1999 environmental experts decided it was alright again, and the rules were changed. Nottingham University used all their intellectual prowess and rigorous training, and decided to make their new science labs “Carbon Neutral” in the hope that they might be able to change global weather. The labs were designed to meet the most rigorous bureaucratic rules, but burnt down before they were finished.

Late last week the £20 million GlaxoSmithKline Carbon Neutral Laboratory for Sustainable Chemistry was razed.

More than 60 firefighters dealt with the fire at its peak, after the first 999 call at 8.36pm on Friday.

Notts Fire and Rescue Service received more than 150 calls from concerned members of the public as flames and plumes of smoke could be seen for miles around. Social media was filled with photos and messages of shock and support.

It must be comforting to know it was built to the most stringent bureaucratic standards and designed by teams of top research academics.

The building was made with carbon-neutral principles including a timber frame. However, the spokeswoman added: “The building was designed to meet stringent fire regulation requirements.
The labs were due to be finished in 2015:

The building was partly funded by a £12 million grant from GlaxoSmithKline in 2012 to establish a sustainable chemistry laboratory and was due to be completed by 2015, according the the University of Nottingham website.

The shell of the building had been finished, but the project had not yet reached the internal fitting-out phase, according to the university.

The labs, described as state-of-the-art by the university, were designed for use by teams of top research academics.

Maybe the experts just got unlucky?

It was a case study for Carbon Neutral success with grand predictions of how well it would work:

GSK estimates it can save £100 million per annum by 2020 through reduced energy, materials and distribution costs.

Delingpole points out that a 1999 report on fire risks was used to overturn the ban on timber buildings. The 1999 report claimed that their experimental 6 story timber building burned in a test, but was contained well. They did not mention that the fire reignited overnight and destroyed the top four floors before the firemen could get it back under control. That news came out in 2003. Was anyone sacked for this?

Thank fully, no one was hurt.


PS: When I started this story I thought that it was a case of being a silly idea to make chemical labs out of wood. It was only after I’d written most of it that I searched for the opening date and found it was 2015. This fire really may have been bad luck. Les Johnson in comments points out that construction fires are not that uncommon — the open unfinished buildings don’t have safety equipment or internal walls to slow things.

“These happen a lot, for these reasons; open interior, without fireproofing in the form of plaster board; temporary wiring (jury rigged), portable heat, open chemicals; construction equip, smoke alarms not in, sprinklers not in, etc.”

So for the record, there are lots of timber buildings in the world. I’m still not convinced a Chemistry Lab should be one.

TdeF sees no big issue: The building was carbon neutral and was simply recycled unexpectedly.




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