THOREAQ, innovation hotspot for construction sector with identical test dwellings, opens its doors in Genk


THOREAQ, a unique lab for the construction sector with two identical test dwellings, officially opens its doors today in the presence of Flemish Minister of Economy, Innovation and Work Jo Brouns. THOREAQ (officially Testbed HOme Renovations, Energy solutions, and AirQuality) consists of two identical test dwellings, a technical workspace and an open-air test lab and will be used to test, validate and demonstrate innovations within the construction sector – think of innovative renovation solutions, the integration of smart energy technologies in existing buildings or automated building processes. This is a project of VITO and EnergyVille and represents an investment of 2 million euros, of which 1 million was financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF React EU) and the Flemish Fund for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

THOREAQ – innovation hotspot for the construction sector

Flanders faces an enormous challenge. By 2050 – in less than 30 years – all Flemish buildings will have to become climate neutral. Taking into consideration that our building stock is among the oldest and most energy-consuming in Europe, it quickly becomes clear that the building sector will be crucial in making the transition to a sustainable future.

In order to support this construction sector and industry, and to give innovative solutions space to grow, the new innovation hotspot for the construction sector – THOREAQ – was officially inaugurated today in the presence of Flemish Minister of Economy and Innovation Jo Brouns, the Mayor of the City of Genk Wim Dries and a representative of the European Commission Marie-Pierre Jouglain.

THOREAQ consists of two identical test dwellings, a technical workspace and an outdoor test lab and will be used to test, validate and demonstrate innovative renovation solutions, technologies that contribute to the improvement of indoor air quality, solutions for better integration of energy systems in the built environment, and innovations in the field of industrialized manufactured façade and roof elements and automated construction methods in construction.

Two identical test dwellings with dismountable facades and roofs

“Such a test infrastructure of two identical, similar buildings is unique in Europe, the only one of its kind,” explained Marlies Van Holm, research coordinator at EnergyVille/VITO. “The two identical test dwellings have been developed with the same construction, same orientation, and nearly identical sunlight, shading, rain and wind loads. In addition, they will soon be equipped with virtual occupants, with devices that mimic human behavior, allowing identical (or deviant) occupant behavior to take place in both buildings. Consequently, comparative AB tests are possible: you change one parameter in either house allowing to precisely measure and determine the effect/performance of that change.”

“For example, if a producer of heat pumps wants to adjust his technology to different user profiles in a controlled environment, he can simulate a family with three children in residence A, and a retired couple in residence B who mainly consume energy throughout the day, under identical conditions. Similarly, if a manufacturer wants to demonstrate that his product is 10% more economical than that of his competitor, this can be done through simulations in the two buildings,” clarifies Marlies Van Holm.

The buildings were also equipped with dismountable façades (3 of the 4 facades per building) and dismountable pitched roofs. The underlying concrete support structure, equipped with anchor rails, allows any type of exterior façade to be installed around the dwellings. Different building materials, roof tiles, or integrated technologies such as solar panels in the building facades, can thus be extensively tested within THOREAQ.

Collaboration is key

Now that the test facility is officially open, the test houses will be further equipped with the necessary technologies, interior finishes, sensors, and thus virtual residents (during 2024-2025). After that, the test houses will be opened to companies, research partners or other interested parties to test, optimize and demonstrate their innovative products and services full-scale and lifelike in a safe and controlled environment.

Inge Neven, CEO of VITO: “The construction sector is one of the crucial sectors in the evolution towards a sustainable future. The different elements around material choices, insulation and energy must fit together seamlessly to achieve the best and most sustainable results, affordable for everyone. So here, in addition to innovation and technological progress, the coordination between the various parties throughout the value chain are of great importance. Together we can lay the foundations for practical solutions that make our buildings futureproof and affordable and reduce their CO2 emissions and climate impact.”

Robotics in the construction sector

Robotics will also have a role within THOREAQ. “VITO and EnergyVille expect a lot of innovation in the coming years in close cooperation with industry and research partners to improve products and processes in terms of sustainability, integration of new materials and techniques in the field of automation and robotics,” Marlies Van Holm clarifies. Therefore, in addition to the identical buildings, the workshop will also house specific research into new building envelope elements (roof and façade elements) and automated construction methods.

In order to also test these technologies outdoors and at full scale, an outdoor site lab will also be built in a final phase. On top of that, the buildings will be plugged into the Open Thor Living Lab‘s district heating and DC grid in 2024, which will also allow energy exchange with the other buildings on the site.

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