CollecThor: underground exchange of heat and cold
It does not need much explaining these days that heat and cold are important energy carriers. Additionally, the heating and cooling of buildings offers great potential for sustainability. CollecThor – the 5th generation district heating network launched at Thor Park today – aims to explore the maximum potential of intelligent district heating networks. The intention is to heat and cool buildings sustainably, and to exchange and store a maximum of residual heat and cold via an underground district heating network. In this first phase, the existing buildings of Thor Park (Thor Central, IncubaThor, EnergyVille 1 and 2) and 8 additional vacant plots will be connected to this network.
Gerrit Jan Schaeffer, General Manager of EnergyVille: “The potential of 5th generation district heating networks, in which energy surpluses are used to the maximum through mutual exchange and storage, is very large. These types of thermal grids, where in principle no additional heat source is required, will be very important to maximize the level of renewable energy in local energy cycles. By industrializing the approach, developing an intelligent control system, and clarifying organizational and business models, we aspire to be an accelerator for future projects.”
THOREAQ: testing new construction and energy techniques in two identical test buildings
Work is also to be done in the field of sustainable construction and renovation. 40% of European energy demand takes place in buildings, resulting in a share of 36% of all European CO2 emissions.
Innovation and upscaling are therefore essential. THOREAQ – which, like CollecThor, was presented today – aims to develop a permanent research infrastructure in which – together with industry – innovations in renovation techniques, improvement of indoor air quality and integration of energy systems in real conditions can be tested and validated. This entails, for example, product innovations (integrated techniques, improved heat pumps or ventilation systems), but also the smart control and seamless interaction between these techniques.
The infrastructure will consist of four units: a technical hall, a site lab and two identical buildings with the morphology of residential buildings, equipped with redundant techniques and an extensive set of measuring equipment. In the two identical test buildings, these technologies can be tested alongside each other via so-called A/B tests. For example, if we want to know how different heat pumps perform in combination with different insulation techniques, storage systems or sun blinds, we can do this in the two test buildings, which will be inhabited by virtual inhabitants.
“With THOREAQ we aim to realize a safe test environment in real conditions”, Gerrit Jan Schaeffer continues. “From 2024, the infrastructure will be opened to companies so that they can test their innovative products and services in interaction with many different systems and components at building level. A second part of THOREAQ is the test infrastructure for construction innovation. Through new forms of automation and prefabrication, we will also focus on automation in collaboration with local and international partners from the construction sector and technology domains such as robotics, and thus develop scalable, more sustainable, safer, and high-quality construction methods.”
Open Thor Living Lab: a living lab with real end users
Both infrastructure projects are part of the Open Thor Living Lab, the large-scale energy lab that spreads its wings over Thor Park, the New Texas social housing estate, the Waterschei garden districts, and KRC Genk. It is a unique infrastructure environment where innovation comes to life, and where governments, companies and citizens are also actively encouraged to exchange knowledge.
“Through co-creation, open innovation and collaboration between companies, governments, research institutions, but especially local citizens, issues surrounding social themes are taking shape, which makes the Open Thor Living Lab a unique test environment to provide meaningful answers and solutions to the climate objectives. I am extremely proud that we can add two beautiful puzzle pieces to the living lab today”, says Gerrit Jan Schaeffer.
Minister of Innovation Jo Brouns: “The current crisis shows how important the transition to sustainable and circular energy solutions is. That is why we can be proud of EnergyVille, who develops research and innovation specifically within these topics. By the way, they do not merely limit their innovative sustainable solutions to the lab, but just break out to test them in real life via their Open Thor Lab, for example with the latest heat networks in their own buildings or the best renovation techniques in their test homes. Here the solutions of tomorrow are tested.”
“The energy crisis presents us all with challenges. Innovation hubs such as EnergyVille in Limburg prove their worth in the constant search for sustainable and affordable energy solutions. Here, the latest heating and cooling techniques are tested in real-life situations. But more importantly, the foundation is laid to provide energy to all of Flanders and even far beyond. Innovative projects such as these can count on Flanders. Through the call ‘Groene Warmte’, we have provided more than 400,000 euros to give the smart minds in Thor Park every opportunity to help set out and test the energy supply of the future in realistic situations,” says Flemish Energy Minister Zuhal Demir.
Wim Dries, Mayor of the City of Genk, is proud that this unique test environment is taking shape in his city: “With this expansion, even more stakeholders will have access to a state-of-the-art infrastructure, knowledge and an extensive ecosystem to implement and validate innovative energy solutions in a real and secure environment with end users. The co-creation and collaboration at Thor Park is crucial to put the pieces of the energy puzzle together and will help the City of Genk achieve its ambitious climate goals.”