Unique laboratory paves the way for zero-emission buildings

In Trondheim, Norway, a unique building has been raised. A living laboratory dedicated to research, development and teaching that can make commercial buildings of the future completely emission-free. NTNU and SINTEF's new ZEB laboratory is itself proof that this is possible.

Emissions of greenhouse gases are by far the biggest challenge of our time and the building and construction industry is no small contributor in that respect. It has been a long time since the Norwegian research operators SINTEF and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) put this issue on the agenda, but recently they got a completely new arena for researching and testing new solutions in real life. The ZEB laboratory (Zero Emission Building) in Trondheim is perhaps the only building of its kind. Not only will this be a workplace for 80 researchers, doctoral fellows and others who work with zero-emission technology, the building is a living laboratory where research and business can meet to create and test new solutions in practice.

Testing new solutions

According to Research Director at SINTEF, Terje Jacobsen, involving the building and construction industry is very important.

“Further to initiating projects with support from the Norwegian Research Council that involve both researchers and the business community, we want to get the industry to use the building to develop their own solutions. The building provides opportunities both to test how the solutions work technically and to see how people who use the building experience them. That way, companies can reduce risk before a product is launched on the market,” says Jacobsen.


Supplies energy

Creating buildings that do not contribute to more greenhouse gases may sound utopian, but the ZEB laboratory itself is proof that this is possible. The building is mainly made of wood and is equipped with, solar cells, heat pumps and thermal storage.

“It is impossible to completely avoid emission of climate gases when constructing a building. We must compensate for this by collecting and delivering emission-free energy. The solution we have chosen is to supply electricity to the local electricity net and heat to the district heating networks,” Jacobsen explains.

The solution chosen for thermal storage is state of the art, technologically speaking. The technology is based on a so-called phase change material, which in this case is a type of bio-wax. The bio-wax is located in a tank that is connected to the heating and ventilation system. It is melted using the energy produced by the building. When the wax is allowed to solidify, heat is recovered.

Identical test rooms

Another unique feature of the building is that it is designed to allow for easy replacement of components to enable researchers and companies to test different solutions.

“We have, among other things, two test rooms where you can change facade elements such as windows and solar screens,” says Jacobsen.

These test rooms are completely identical, while parameters such as temperature, light and ventilation can be changed easily. This allows the researchers to compare how users react to changes in an indoor environment.

Important interaction

A unique building also requires a unique construction process.

“When we announced the contract in 2017, we did not have a single drawing to show. What we were concerned with was the competence of the contractor. The framework for the project was an interaction contract that made it possible to work out solutions together with the architect and contractor. We are very pleased with the collaboration with Veidekke, LINK arkitektur and their teams,” Jacobsen emphasizes.


The building must be a living laboratory. The research in the building must answer the overall research questions: What technical and architectural solutions are needed to achieve good office and teaching conditions in a ZEB building? How do users influence the energy consumption in the building and how do they adapt to ZEB technologies?


In addition, the building must be:

  • A laboratory for the development of internationally competitive industry
  • A laboratory for knowledge generation at a high international level
  • A research arena for the development of zero-emission buildings
  • An arena for risk reduction when implementing solutions for zero-emission buildings
  • A national resource for all research organizations in the field
    Institutionalize a new center as an extension of the Zero Emission Buildings Research Center for Environmentally Friendly Energy.



Facts about the ZEB laboratory

Year of construction: 2020
Client / owner: NTNU and SINTEF
Main contractor: Veidekke
Architect: LINK
Size: 2000 m2, four floors
Funding: The Research Council, Enova, NTNU and SINTEF.