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Floating houses for rising seas



A recent advance in the technology used to build floating houses could make this a more attractive option for low lying areas seeking to adapt to the effects of climate change.

In low lying areas, floating or amphibian homes could provide an important means of defence against rising sea levels and flooding as a result of global warming. FLOATEC, an international research project involving collaboration between Dutch and Spanish partners, has developed a technology that could be a catalyst for the development of the sector.

The innovative approach centres on use of expanded polystyrene (EPS), similar to that used in packaging. The modified polystyrene is inserted in multiple layers, between strata of composite and concrete, creating beam-like modules which can easily be assembled to form a floating base or foundation.

This represents a significant advance on the technology in traditional floating houses that can only support limited weights before the entire structure loses its buoyancy. The new technology not only supports heavier structures but, because it uses less material, is also expected to bring down the cost of individual homes.

"We simply do not need to use as much material as we used to," explains project manager Edwin Blom. "Smaller blocks can now support bigger structures and, in the end, the cost of the whole building is reduced."

Launched in 2008, the FLOATEC project was led by Dutch company, Dura Vermeer, a leader in the floating buildings market. The company has a strong track record in innovative architectural projects, such as the Rotterdam floating exhibition pavilion and the amphibious village in Maasbommel, in the Netherlands.

A major limitation for Dura Vermeer, however, has been the size and weight of the buildings that could be floated. The breakthrough came when it teamed up with FLOATEC partner, Acciona Infrastructures, a Spanish company specialising in the development of nanotechnology-based composite materials. Unlike its peers in the nanotechnology sector that have focused on the lucrative high-tech sectors, such as aerospace or military, Acciona Infrastructures has concentrated on exploring potential applications in the construction sector.

The two partners, together with a Spanish engineering consultancy, Solintel, came together within the framework of EUREKA, a European network to promote industry-led research and innovation. The FLOATEC project is a product of a EUREKA thematic group, which aims at improving co-operation between European researchers and businesses to stimulate innovation in the construction sector.

The novel application of nanotechnology to amphibian buildings demonstrates the potential of the network to nurture eco-innovation by bringing together different sectors or disciplines to focus on a specific challenge or opportunity. In the case of FLOATEC, this could have significant benefits for low-lying areas at risk from rising sea levels. The Netherlands in particular, with vast low-lying areas, is seen as a key market for the new technology.

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