The exterior of the newly launched BCA SkyLab, the world's first high-rise rotatable laboratory for the tropics. Photo: The Straits Times
A revolving laboratory perched on a roof eight stories high will bring Singapore closer to constructing buildings that not only consume net zero energy, but also produce excess energy.
The 132 sq m research centre – the size of two three-room flats – launched on Wednesday (July 20) is the brainchild of the Building and Construction Authority (BCA).
The centre will be used to test-bed technologies to bring more "positive energy" buildings into reality.
Such buildings will be able to produce more energy than they consume by, for instance, harnessing solar energy, while reducing energy consumption by using more efficient air-conditioning or lighting systems.
The medium-term aspiration is to develop such "positive energy" low-rise and medium-rise buildings which are energy self-sufficient, and energy-efficient high-rise buildings, said Dr John Keung, chief executive of the BCA.
Launching the BCA SkyLab, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that, as the Republic's economy developed, its building activities grew in scale and complexity, and that attention is now placed on environmental sustainability.
Prime Minister Lee Hsieng Loong at the launch of the new BCA SkyLab on July 20. Photo: The Straits Times
"The BCA SkyLab that we are opening today will play an important role in our environmental sustainability drive," he said.
The $4.5 million rotatable laboratory, which takes 30 minutes to complete one round, will allow researchers to test new systems with actual weather and climatic conditions, as opposed to simulating them using historical data which might not be accurate due to climate change.
The centre was developed in collaboration with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, which has a similar rotating lab suited for a temperate climate.
"The good thing about a rotatable lab is that you can tune it by a few degrees and see if it makes a difference," said Dr Keung.
Say, a research team has tested a technology when the laboratory faces east, rotating it by 20 degrees will mean it is now in the north-east, and the team can tell if the effectiveness of their system is affected, he explained.
"It gives you the flexibility to answer many 'what ifs'."
The laboratory comprises of a test cell – where the new technology being developed will be installed – and a reference cell that will mimic a conventional room without add-ons. Changes in indoor temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide levels and other conditions will be tracked by over 200 sensors.
Mr Lee said there is also a need to upgrade the Republic's building software – how we build – in terms of productivity, safety and quality.
He pointed out that construction methods are still labour-intensive and time-consuming.
While non-fatal major workplace injuries in the construction sector fell from 202 in 2014 to 157 last year, Mr Lee said the industry remains a major contributor to workplace fatalities and major injuries.
He said: "To improve productivity and safety, we have to focus on developing our people."
He noted that the BCA has been updating its curriculum, for instance, through the introduction of new diploma programme in advanced construction techniques.
The Academic Tower at the BCA Academy, on which the BCA SkyLab sits, will also serve as a living laboratory for students to experience first-hand how a building "interacts" with its occupants.
Students can, for example, view exposed piping and ducting to learn how mechanical and electrical systems work. The Academic Tower was also officially opened on Wednesday.
The roof top garden located on the Academic Tower. Photo: The Straits Times
Mr Lee said buildings are more than mere bricks and mortar, and reflect the ethos of society, one that is forward-looking and after a environmentally sustainable and safe environment to live in.
"Then we can have good buildings – well built, efficiently built, and safely built, meeting human needs, showing off a modern city – (as) an element of the endearing home that all of us share," he said.
Written by Samantha Boh for The Straits Times.