Working PROBONO in Europe

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The drive for sustainable and green buildings across Europe has encountered a number of barriers—high upfront construction costs, access to capital, social attitudes, lack of information, experience and incentives—and to respond to these challenges, the PROBONO project was defined. It is a people-focused European construction industry working in harmony with the broader community of stakeholders. Public authorities and citizens are involved with the purpose to deliver scalable, sustainable, and viable energy positive and zero-carbon green buildings and neighborhoods.

PROBONO’s aim is to provide validated solutions for the design, construction, and operation of new and/or retrofitted zero-pollution and positive energy buildings as part of sustainable green neighborhood developments. To test the feasibility of the PROBONO project, six districts of European cities have been selected: Madrid (Spain), Dublin (Ireland), Porto (Portugal), Brussels (Belgium), Aarhus (Denmark) and Prague (Czech Republic). The six districts, called Living Labs, will become energy-positive zones with zero-carbon buildings.

These local initiatives will enable PROBONO to not only provide strong examples on how technological and social innovations related to green buildings and neighborhoods can be applied, but also contribute evidence-based policy recommendations, standardization actions, and robust adoption and commercialization strategies in order to enhance wide-scale adoption and standard creation. Having a systems-based approach to the buildings’ infrastructure and a focus on people and sustainability, the project will fully exploit digitalization and smart technologies for the benefit of society.

The PROBONO innovation project, involving 47 partners from 13 countries, has been selected by the European Commission to receive €20-25 million in funding from the Horizon 2020 program. The partners involved include various technology companies, engineering firms, construction companies, and local administrations, such as the Madrid City Council. The initiative aims to design and implement scalable solutions for urban regeneration that meet the sustainability standards set by the European Green Deal.

The project also seeks to develop innovative methodologies and solutions to implement in individual buildings and for creating green districts, which are not only neutral in CO2 emissions, but also have a positive energy balance, generating more power than they consume. 

Among the entities involved in the project is AKKA Technologies–through AKKA Research, its in-house innovation and R&D center. AKKA will coordinate the digital activities, leveraging technologies such as big data, IoT (internet of things), AI (artificial intelligence), BIM (building information modeling), and 3D visualization with the aim of developing a digitalization platform to allow data-driven decisions in the planning, design, manufacturing, construction, and operation phases of green urban projects. This platform will include digital twins of the living labs, an open knowledge base, and a strategic decision-making tool for green-building stakeholders.

AKKA will lead the integration and deployment of the digital twins in the living labs which will provide simulation-based evaluation and finetuning of building plans and solutions design, as well as monitoring day-to-day operations such as the state of building subsystems and prediction of energy demand.

In Madrid, the project will be tested in the area known as Madrid Nuevo Norte, where renewables-based district heating and cooling networks will be implemented, with small urban installations that respect the coexistence of residential and office buildings.

In addition, as part of the proposal submitted by ACCIONA and its partners, the project includes the design and construction of a pilot (30,000m2) that will envision the future energy system of Madrid Nuevo Norte, using District Heating technologies based on geothermal energy, as well as technologies based on circular economy and renewables. All these technologies will be controlled and managed under a digital model that will allow maximum performance, stakeholder involvement, scaling and replication.

The PROBONO project has a comprehensive vision, meaning it integrates various sustainability factors for urban areas:

Construction: sustainable and intelligent materials for rehabilitation and construction purposes will be evaluated and proposed within the initiative. When validating the sustainability of these materials, an analysis of their entire life cycle is required (from extraction to reuse at the end of their useful life).Energy efficiency: energy savings will be prioritized in construction and design decisions as one of the key aspects to contribute to decarbonization and to improve the interior comfort of buildings.Energy supply: the goal is to use 100% renewable energy, including district energy storage systems, the creation of energy communities and “smart grids,” among others.Use of new information technologies: an integrated digital platform (digital twin) will be developed to support decision making processes from design to operation and maintenance.Public-private collaboration: the creation of regulatory frameworks promoting urban planning with zero-emissions districts will be carried out together with local administrations, such as the Madrid City Council.Social impact: neighborhood participation will be encouraged in urban regeneration processes through open and collaborative innovation groups.

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