At-Bristol Science Centre

Saving energy

The At-Bristol building is Grade II listed and was originally a railway goods shed, built by Great Western Railway in 1903. It is one of the earliest reinforced concrete buildings in the UK.

It has the French Hennebique style construction, which supports the elegant wide arches that once spanned the railway tracks. Small cross sections have deliberately been exposed in the stairwells to show the structure of the reinforced concrete using just four metal bars.

Before construction began, archaeologists surveyed our site and found traces of a dock wall believed to be several centuries old, foundations of Victorian factory buildings and cobbled street paving. We were able to record these findings before covering them for digs in the next millennium!

The dock wall is believed to have kept spring water in, as well as dock water out, which is why land around the dock is 1 metre higher than in the dock itself.

The At-Bristol building is an innovative and cutting-edge building system, including:

  • The only working example of a phase change storage tank in the country
  • All heating and cooling comes from renewable air source heat pumps, running at night 
  • The air from heat pumps is then released by the phase change tank during the day  
  • CO2 controlled variable ventilation with heat recovery thermal wheels
  • Low energy lighting throughout, voltage optimisation, exhibit and lighting controls
  • Insulated above 1998 standards
  • Advanced energy monitoring system* with 138 sensors recording exactly where and when our electricity is used. Our ‘energy reduction group’ has used this to so far reduce consumption by 10% in the last year

The building has been designed to save energy in a number of ways:


At-Bristol building construction

The building incorporates an existing heritage building into its innovative design.  It was designed by Wilkinson Eyre architects who fused old with new to create a magnificent new exhibition space.

The architects added a 9 metre high and 90 metre long glass wall along the north side of the original building and a 15-metre diameter stainless steel planetarium sphere to the south side.

By creating this combination of old and new, At-Bristol were able to reduce the carbon burden associated with constructing a new building, as well as preserving a historic building.


Air source heat pumps

At-Bristol’s roof has been fitted with eight air source heat pumps.  

An air source heat pump extracts heat from the outside air in the same way that a fridge extracts heat from its inside. It can extract heat from the air even when the outside temperature is as low as minus 15°C.

They run on electricity and are much more efficient than using electric radiators.


Phase change tank

An interesting feature of the At-Bristol building is the phase change tank, designed to act as an environmentally-friendly buffer to keep temperatures even within the building.

The tank consists of a ten meter transparent tower full of balls containing special eutectic salts.

As the temperature in the building rises - either because of visitor numbers or because it is hot outside - the crystals inside the balls begin to melt, taking in heat as they do so and cooling the building. As the building cools, the crystals turn solid again and give out heat.


The Results

One of our biggest impacts has been our energy reduction.

We have reduced electricity consumption by 10% in 12 months, and in doing so we have:

  • Prevented 93 tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere
  • Saved the equivalent of 35 homes in electricity
  • Saved £19,000 in money

 Our energy reduction is now in the region of 10.8% as we continue to find ways to improve upon it.

Science Fact

Neptune has the fastest winds in the Solar System, reaching speeds of 2000 kilometres per hour