The built environment generates 36% of global greenhouse gases, making the construction industry one of the priority sectors for emissions-reduction efforts. Thomas Jusselme, who defended his PhD thesis at EPFL this past March, has devised a new way for engineers to assess a building’s energy efficiency right from the design stage. Jusselme will now market the life cycle assessment (LCA) method through Vizcab, a startup he founded in 2015. The company has just raised 1.6 million euros (1.75 million francs).
“With this injection of capital, we’ll be able to gain a stronger foothold in France,” says Jusselme, who also serves as Vizcab’s head of innovation. The firm, which markets the method under a license obtained from EPFL in 2017, is planning a series B funding round in 18–24 months’ time as it eyes the wider European market.
At the intersection of the digital and ecological transitions
The patented method makes it easier to carry out an LCA at the early stages of a building’s design. “Our startup operates at the intersection of the digital and ecological transitions,” explains Jusselme. Architects and engineers can feed different construction assumptions into a web app developed by Vizcab, which runs thousands of simulations based on different design parameters such as heating, glazing and insulation. This data-driven model enables practitioners to integrate greenhouse gas emission targets into the early stages of the design process. Previously, it was only possible to calculate a building’s environmental impact once the design choices were set in stone.
A multidisciplinary approach
The method was developed by Building2050, a team based at EPFL’s Smart Living Lab in Fribourg – a lab known for its multidisciplinary approach to research. The LCA model draws on the latest advances in building physics, environmental science, mechanical engineering, data science, statistics and data visualization. “I wouldn’t have been able to get this technology off the ground without the backing of Building2050 and the valuable support of my colleagues,” says Jusselme. “It’s the kind of environment that spawns new ideas.” The first prototype was developed in collaboration with two EPFL labs – the Laboratory of Integrated Performance in Design (LIPID) and the Laboratory of Architecture and Sustainable Technologies (LAST) – as well as the EPFL+ECAL Lab and the Human-IST Institute at the University of Fribourg (UNIFR).
Climate neutrality by 2050
Vizcab’s new technology is an example of perfect timing, coming in the wake of the European Green Deal, which commits the European Union to climate neutrality by 2050. “New rules like these impose additional constraints on companies,” says Pont. “The opportunity is ripe for startups to step into the gap and ease regulatory pressures on businesses.” Against this backdrop, the traffic on Vizcab’s platform – which currently has 680 users – could well soar in the coming years.
The LCA method is just the latest in a line of technologies to emerge from the School’s laboratories that could have a major impact on industry and wider society. “It’s always pleasing to hear that a spin-off operating a technology under license from EPFL has secured financing,” says Frédéric Pont, one of the School’s technology transfer managers. “And it’s especially welcome news in the midst of a global pandemic and economic uncertainty.”