University aims for top of the class in sustainability

A major development programme is in progress at Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in the Netherlands to make its campus carbon neutral and a circular economy by 2030. Jaco van Noppen, Director of Campus and Real Estate, gives an insight into the programme and how the university is drawing on its own scientific expertise to help realise its ambition.

As the Netherlands’ first and largest engineering and technology university, TU Delft is a hotbed of innovation, entrepreneurship and excellence.

The university’s Director of Campus and Real Estate (CRE), Jaco van Noppen says:

We may be celebrating our 180th anniversary in 2022, but we’re looking ahead by working to futureproof our buildings.

The futureproofing drive is transformational, as van Noppen is steering a decade-long, €650m development programme that aims to make its campus carbon neutral and a circular economy by 2030.

As well as meeting stretching environmental targets, campus buildings have to be flexible to accommodate future teaching methods and reflect the university’s aspirations as a global centre of science knowledge.

To help realise these objectives, the university has adopted a ground-breaking approach to delivering its development programme; combining the research capability and knowledge of the university’s own scientists and the external experience of a project management office (PMO).

Science of sustainability

The university’s climate action plan covers all its activities, from the food served in its cafés to its real estate, and identified the latter as a significant contributor to its overall carbon footprint. “Under the 10-year programme we have 600,000 square metres of space that needs to be transformed, redeveloped or sold,” says van Noppen.

The 160-hectare campus contains 60 buildings owned by the university, including notable mid-twentieth century examples of the work of architects Van den Broek & Bakema. “We have buildings that are architecturally iconic,” acknowledges van Noppen. “But some dating from the 1960s incorporate a lot of concrete and from a sustainability point of view, they are difficult to transform to make efficient and carbon neutral.”

In plotting the future of the campus and its buildings, the real estate team is working in co-creation with university stakeholders, who include both faculty teams and support services such as finance and human resources. But students and staff all have a potential part to play in shaping the future estate through their scientific research.

We are an innovative technical university, so a lot of the innovations and techniques in sustainability are coming from our young engineers.

“Both the campus and individual projects are field labs for our scientists,”  says van Noppen. The campus already has a number of these field labs, including the Green Village, an accelerator of innovation for a sustainable future.

At the Green Village, researchers, students, start-ups, entrepreneurs and government bodies work every day on the innovation challenges of today and tomorrow. The focus lies on the following three themes: Sustainable building and renovation, Future energy system and a Climate adaptive city.

The field lab approach turns challenges into opportunities for innovative solutions. For example, a crowd management tool grew out of sensor monitoring across the campus to manage student movement safely in the pandemic. Now this technology is helping to shape the design of the future campus.

Scientists are being engaged with challenges throughout the development programme, says van Noppen, who adds, “It’s an opportunity to think about the next thing, whether that’s small wind turbines that can be attached to buildings or innovations in re-use of plastics.”

Driving the development programme

When van Noppen joined TU Delft almost two years ago to lead CRE, the development programme had already been in progress for a year and was being managed internally. With CRE facing challenges in sourcing staff to manage this significant programme, it made sense to put a PMO in place.

The move enables the CRE team to build skills and expertise, as van Noppen explains.

We want to be a strong real estate organisation, so we are stepping up in our professionalism, and that’s also where a strategic partner comes in and can help in enabling improvement.

“An important key performance indicator (KPI) for me in directing this part of the organisation has been continuity, quality and capacity – those are the main things I need to control. If you have strategic partners, you have greater certainty that you can deliver.”

One area of improvement targeted is increasing the implementation capacity and the speed of execution. The first year of the programme saw about €30m of construction work - which put it on a trajectory to deliver just half of the planned €650m of development. The PMO has since helped to boost delivery, to €50m in 2020 and €70m in 2021.

“That shows the engine of the organisation is getting stronger,” says van Noppen. As well as managing delivery of the development programme, the PMO is looking at how the resilience of the estate can be enhanced, so that it can better withstand market fluctuations and changes in the wake of the pandemic.

Raising ambitions through projects

Individual projects show how the university is developing its approaches to meet its stretching sustainability targets. An educational building on campus, called Pulse, has been designed for flexible learning – with student and lecturer input influencing the inclusion of such features as writable walls - and was the first energy neutral building on the campus.

Solar panels, underground thermal storage, super-insulating glass, an intelligent building management system and a direct current network, developed with the university’s own experts have all been key to achieving energy neutrality.

Another project, the multi-purpose Echo building, takes sustainability ambitions further with its energy-positive design, which relies on 1,100 solar panels, high-tech glazing, thermal storage, mechanical ventilation with heat recovery and other advanced technologies.

The building also incorporates re-used PET plastic bottles in acoustic panels on the internal walls, as part of the university’s focus on using recycled or recyclable materials in line with circular economy principles.

As the university is a partner in the Delft Geothermal Heat Project, the campus is able to draw on geothermal energy for building heating. The source will also be linked to a major research programme aimed at the safe and responsible upscaling of geothermal energy as a clean energy source.

The university is also working with the city of Delft to ensure biodiversity is enhanced through its interventions, for example by incorporating nesting boxes for birds, bats and bees in the facades of a new and demountable multi-storey car park.

Sustainable exemplar

A new €130m building for the faculty of Applied Sciences and many more projects lie ahead in seven more years of the development programme. The PMO has gone through its learning curve and is becoming established, van Noppen believes, bringing capacity, experience and improved reporting systems to the programme.

Future-proofing the campus has required a shift in project thinking, away from first cost to long term value. “You have to invest today to avoid costs tomorrow. We’ve learned that if you don’t talk about total cost of ownership, a lot of these investments are not that attractive.”

Many lessons and innovations have already emerged from TU Delft and more will undoubtedly follow as its decade-long development programme progresses. These and the new buildings taking shape across the campus look set to make the TU Delft campus a global significant example in sustainability.

Facts and figures about TU Delft

TU Delft has grown from a single building housing 48 students to become the Netherlands’ largest university of technology, with more than 27,000 students and 6,000 employees.

Established in 1842 as a Royal Academy, the university expanded after the Second World War and now has eight faculties, located on campus to the south east of Delft.

Its campus spans more than 160 hectares, being larger than the city centre of Delft itself, and houses numerous facilities such as educational buildings, laboratories, research bodies and associations, business space for commercial companies, hospitality facilities and student housing.

Business space includes a science park for start-up and scale-up businesses and De Bouwcampus, which is the home of innovation in construction and real estate. In all, around 250 companies, including global names like Microsoft, have a presence on the campus.

For further information contact:

Sander De Jonge
Associate Director