This German startup revives old buildings
Real Estate

This German startup revives old buildings

A German startup revives old buildings with a second skin, converting them into an energy-efficient asset and restoring the lost energy balance. CW speaks to Emanuel Heisenberg, Founder & CEO, ecoworks, to understand the process and the company’s plans for India. ...

A German startup revives old buildings with a second skin, converting them into an energy-efficient asset and restoring the lost energy balance. CW speaks to Emanuel Heisenberg, Founder & CEO, ecoworks, to understand the process and the company’s plans for India. How is ecoworks helping old buildings become energy-efficient? Energy consumption is one of the major issues in the contemporary built environment. Moreover, as buildings get older they tend to consume more and more energy. At ecoworks, the idea is to arrest the problem and reverse the process. As of now, we have successfully implemented the patented technique in multi-storied buildings consisting of up to four floors. Using a proprietary algorithm based on over 100 parameters, we search through public building registries and satellite photos to identify and rank the finest candidate buildings for renovation. Once the building is identified, we conduct a 3D scan of the structure, from which a digital twin is made. Blueprints for panels that will fit over the existing walls using this twin are then created. The panels are put together by robots and come with windows, ventilation, pipe conduits and solar panels on the roof. All these elements together wrap around the existing structure and act as its second skin. We have a set of specially trained professionals to carry out the installation of these panels onsite and complete it in a few weeks. That apart, we also insulate the basement ceiling. By only using factory-produced facade and roof components and pre-assembled building technologies, ecoworks saves the amount of labour needed for a project by up to 80 per cent. With the addition of photovoltaic systems, heat pumps and thermal reservoirs, the building becomes a tiny decentralised power plant. The modernised building then produces more energy than the inhabitants use for power, heating and hot water. The excess green energy generated is fed into the national power system. This method allows multi-family residential tenants a way to lower their energy costs without having to leave their apartments vacant for weeks or months at a time while their building undergoes renovations. So, this entails cost savings for both the builder and the tenants. Moreover, it helps standardise the process of retrofitting so that multiple buildings of the same typology can reach their carbon-neutrality goals more quickly. Tell us about one of your initial projectswhere the installation of the second skin led to a turnaround. A 1930s apartment complex in a tiny German town was one of our earliest initiatives. For this project, we also did a lot of interior renovation, which we normally don't do.Hence unlike a standard time span of 12 weeks, we took 25 weeks to complete it.We tracked the variations in the building’s energy consumption and designed a prefabricated envelope. Prior to refurbishment, the 12-unit structure had one of the lowest energy-efficiency ratings in the nation, using 450 kWh of energy per sqm The structure is now producing extra energy, which it feeds into the grid. After remodelling, we could also minimise the carbon footprint of the projectas the new facade is made of wood, which absorbs carbon as it grows. More so, as most of the existing building was reused, rather than being built from scratch. Care has been taken to ensure that the building’s emissions, including those from producing the installed solar panels, are completely offset in a time spanof two years. In a city like Mumbai, structures are very close together.How would your technology lend itself to this scenario? Would space be a constraint? Normally, we try to keep the entire exercise as simple as possible. All the elements of the second skin are prefabricated and then fixed on the existing wall using a skin. Here in Germany, to install the second skin we have a set of specially trained people who are trained in fixing elements. Coming to the Mumbai scenario where structures are close to each other, we will have to partner with experts in construction management and construction site layouts; and apart from that we will have to usespecialised cranes in such cases. To what extent does the second skin increase the lifespan of the said structure? Eventually when buildings age, they tend to become stranded assets. Our technology revives them in a way that they remain not only energy-efficient and reduce their carbon emissions but also stay strong and robust for another 50 to 80 years. If ecoworks is to operate in a country like India, what kind of partners would you want to work with? Every country has its own dynamics and to navigate that you need local people to ease the whole process. Moreover, we plan to internationalise our operations by 2024 and will be glad to play a crucial role in India as well. To operate in a diverse and voluminous country like India, in my view we will need two partners. One can be a conglomerate to ensure the manufacturing part of the process is taken care of and another can be a general contractor whom we can train to carry out the installations efficiently. We would ideally settle for a partner who is well-connected to the Government and has a good deal of credibility in terms of theirprevious work.

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