Net Impact Bristol event #4 – At-Bristol Sustainability Tour

DSC_2563Winner of numerous sustainability awards, At-Bristol science centre boasts one of the most advanced low-energy systems in the UK. Green roofs, CO2 ventilation sensors and a robotic bird of prey, so the team behind Net Impact Bristol was keen to know more. So, on Thursday 23rd October 2014 they took a tour of the building’s energy system to find out how it’s run.

DSC_2516 At-Bristol Sustainability Manager, Chris Dunford started off by pointing out how little heating technology has changed over the years. We’re basically still doing the same thing that Iron Age settlers did 2,000 years ago – ‘just burning stuff’. He took us to the top floor of the At-Bristol building to show us how they are different. Four air source heat pumps work as a heating and cooling system for the whole building. They convert the heat from the air outside to heat the building in winter and draw hot air from the building to cool it in summer. The system is run on surplus electricity from the grid, so it’s cost effective and economical for the environment. At-Bristol is home to the only phase change storage tank in the country. This cutting-edge piece of kit consists of a huge tubular tower containing around 65,000 calcium chloride filled balls. The chemical inside these balls takes in heat when the building is warm and releases it when it’s cold, maintaining equilibrium throughout the whole science centre; a bit like an in-built temperature regulator.


Deep in thought as Chris explains the phase change tank

A synthesis of old and new, the At-Bristol building was once an old railway goods shed; pioneering in its own time (1903) for being one of the first UK steel reinforced buildings. Rather than knocking down the building and starting afresh, it was recycled and converted – to avoid the carbon-heavy process of demolishing and rebuilding from scratch. The building therefore transformed from a revolutionary architectural landmark into the sustainable and innovative At-Bristol building you see today – embodying two different pioneering technologies, through one century and into the next. So far, so impressive. But Brian, the robotic peregrine falcon really stole the show. His job is up on the roof, guarding the solar photovoltaic panels against damage from nesting seagulls and pigeons. The solar panels generate 6% of the annual energy that the building needs; impressive when you consider all of the power-heavy equipment it runs. Brian is usually kept busy making sure everything is in order, but he does take the odd break to tweet some of his thoughts – you can visit his Twitter page here.

Chris introduces Brian, the robotic peregrine falcon that protects At-Bristol's solar panels from nesting seagulls

Chris introduces Brian, the robotic peregrine falcon that protects At-Bristol’s solar panels from nesting seagulls

The event provided Net Impact Bristol with the chance to bring environmentally conscious professionals together and give them a valuable insight into the science behind renewable energy and sustainable technologies. Net Impact Bristol is run by volunteers, and aims to provide career development and networking opportunities to professionals in Bristol’s green sector. It is part of a global network of over 300 chapters worldwide – find out more at At-Bristol is a wonderful example of how innovation, scientific technology and creativity can fuse to generate real positive, sustainable change. The building is an innovative response to the environmental needs we face today and sets a benchmark for other Bristol businesses to hopefully live up to. Here’s to the future!

– Blog by Ruth Lawrence

Want to get involved with Net Impact Bristol or come to our next event? Head to our events page to find out what’s coming up!

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