In the presence of Flemish Minister of Economy and Innovation Jo Brouns and the Mayor of the City of Genk, Wim Dries, the construction works of a brand-new research building for climate-neutral construction were officially inaugurated in Genk. The project – given the name ConstrucThor – will enable in-depth research into new construction materials, construction and renovation methods, and digital technologies. The ambition is to test and optimize various disciplines and techniques related to energy, water management, indoor air quality, and their interaction with each other. Through innovation, the researchers hope to speed up the market introduction of financially viable construction and renovation solutions and contribute to the ambitions of achieving a climate-neutral Flanders by 2050. The building will cost a total of 10.6 million euros, with the Flemish government investing 8 million euros through the Vlaamse Veerkracht investment plan. KU Leuven will contribute the remaining 2.6 million euros.

Flanders Climate-Neutral by 2050

Flanders faces a significant challenge. By 2030, the EU aims to reduce CO2 emissions by 55%, and climate-neutrality all over Europe by 2050. This means that in less than 30 years, each Flemish building will have to become entirely climate neutral. This is an ambitious plan, particularly for Flanders, having one of the oldest and most energy-consuming building stocks in Europe. And time is of the essence…

To facilitate in-depth research into new construction materials, construction and renovation methods, and digital technologies and to make it easier for them to enter the market, there is a need for an inspiring environment for multidisciplinary collaboration. Therefore, in the presence of Flemish Minister of Economy and Innovation Jo Brouns and the Mayor of the City of Genk, Wim Dries, the starting signal was given today for ConstrucThor, a multidisciplinary test building in which various stakeholders (the construction sector, financial institutions, knowledge institutions, etc.) can extensively test new technologies for climate-neutral construction.

Flemish Minister Jo Brouns: "Flanders is thoroughly committed to a sustainable and circular economy. With the Flemish recovery plan, we invested in various infrastructure projects to stimulate research and innovation for this sustainable transition. The 8 million euros investment in ConstrucThor at the Thor site with EnergyVille is a prime example. Here, we are developing the sustainable building techniques of tomorrow, making it more affordable for the people of Flanders by working more efficiently, and positioning Thor Park and EnergyVille in Genk as experts in sustainable and circular technologies."

ConstrucThor – A Unique Test Building

"The building will have a modular design, with various configurations in both the building and facade approach. Different types of office spaces, residential units, and various building envelope solutions such as green roofs, PV-integrated facade elements, or robot-premanufactured building elements will allow new technologies to be tested in different setups. Aspects like circularity, ready-to-apply solutions for fast renovations, renewable energy technologies, smart system control, indoor air quality, reuse of rainwater, and permeable surfaces will all be addressed in the building," explains project coordinator Professor Dirk Saelens from EnergyVille/KU Leuven.

This test environment will not only focus on the "hardware" but will also embrace digital solutions to optimize the interaction of these technologies with each other. "Renovation techniques will be seen as a extensive package: existing facades will be measured with advanced measuring techniques, which will then be translated into a digital representation of the building. The digital model will serve as the foundation for the production and assembly of prefabricated building elements in the test building. After assembly, highly accurate sensors will be used to validate the system's improvements," professor Saelens clarifies.

With ConstrucThor, the partners aim to support construction companies and allow them to specialize in the most relevant technologies. "The renovation wave poses a significant challenge to the construction sector, so the sooner it becomes clear which techniques make a difference in accelerating this transition and how quickly we can make these technologies financially appealing and bring them to the market, the better," Professor Saelens continues.

Open Thor Living Lab and EnergyVille

ConstrucThor is a new addition to the Open Thor Living Lab, along with THOREAQ and oPEN Lab, where construction is in progress. The Open Thor Living Lab, established by EnergyVille, the City of Genk, and Thor Park, serves as a living laboratory to test various aspects of the energy transition in real-life conditions, spanning the Thor Park, the Nieuw Texas residential area, the garden city in Waterschei, and KRC Genk.

Smart charging infrastructure is already available on-site. In the coming years, an innovative district heating network (CollecThor), a direct current grid, and an advanced data platform (SmarThor) will also be rolled out. The goal is for ConstrucThor (and future buildings) to integrate with these developments in the coming years.

Mayor Wim Dries: "We are delighted that this project is integrated into the living lab developed at Thor Park. The dozens of construction companies based in Genk and Limburg can, through the knowledge developed within ConstrucThor, prepare for a challenging future. They can gain firsthand experience with technologies that can be used in the pursuit of a climate-neutral Europe. This way, our companies can gain a competitive edge and support their customers and potential customers in their sustainable construction and renovation projects."

The inauguration was held during the international energy conference Energy Mission, which is organized annually by the partners Flux50, POM Limburg, Thor Park, and EnergyVille.

More info

Feel free to contact Dirk Saelens, Professor Building Physics at EnergyVille/KU Leuven: