They were built in another age, an age of cheap coal or oil.

Millions of poorly insulated and ventilated homes across northern Europe are now too hot for summers and too cold for winters. 

As global heating hits, there have already been warnings, from UK Government advisers, that some of Scotland’s houses may kill, because those of us who live in them will be overheated.

But homes that are energy inefficient and ill-suited to the new reality of increasingly changeable weather are common throughout the continent. 

So scientists and engineers are increasingly trying to work out how to retrofit them.

The University of Strathclyde is part of an ambitious initiative that will design state-of-the-art factories to support the renovation of 22 million homes across Europe that must become energy-neutral before 2050. 

Supported by Interreg North Sea region (NSR), the initiative encompasses the areas of Norway, Denmark, the UK, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden that border the North Sea, currently home to around 60 million people. 

Focusing on properties built between 1950 and 1985 that must become more sustainable to meet EU energy and climate targets, the project aims to stimulate the European building sector, which does not currently have the necessary production facilities to support this enormous task. 

Named Indu-zero, the three-year project aims to industrialise housing by creating a blueprint for an autonomous factory that adopts Industry 4.0 technologies and can manufacture 15,000 refurbishment kits per year.  

Similar factories will then follow the blueprint across various European countries. 

Placed over a house like a jacket, the refurbishment kits feature clever solutions for sustainable energy production and increased comfort of living, such as solar panels, heat pumps and ventilation. Significantly reducing energy costs, they will also contribute substantially to achieving national climate change targets.

The University of Strathclyde’s Space Mechatronic Systems Technology Lab (SMeSTech) and Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC), based in its Design, Manufacture & Engineering Management department (DMEM) and its Energy System Research Unit (ESRU), have all joined the consortium with partners from the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Sweden and Norway.

“This is a very ambitious project aiming to address the real challenge faced by millions of people living in energy inefficient homes in the North Sea region. The University’s multi-disciplinary team have blended their expertise to lead key work packages within this challenging and potentially impactful project”, said Professor Xiu Yan, director of SMeSTech lab and Indu-Zero project leader. 

The AFRC and SMeSTech will create a blueprint of an autonomous factory using expertise in smart manufacturing and advanced digital manufacturing technologies, employing laser scanning techniques to map out renovation packages bespoke to house designs.
ESRU will use simulations to assess the energy and comfort impacts of proposed renovation packages to ensure that they are fit for purpose. 

Indu-Zero brings together parties from different countries and fields of expertise. Partners come from the education sector, the construction sector, housing corporations, industry and government. 

Danny McMahon, senior manufacturing engineer at AFRC, said: “This is a really exciting project that could have a big impact... on achieving climate targets, reducing energy costs for home owners and boosting sustainability. Manufacturing the packs needed to refurbish 22 million homes by 2050 is an enormous task, one that the current building sector cannot meet without help.

“Indu-Zero is a direct response to this, designing factories that will manufacture renovation kits efficiently, benefiting from new manufacturing technologies and making small quantities per region to decrease transportation needs.”