PRINCE Edward, the Earl of Wessex, visited Wroughton Airfield to open a new research centre testing sustainable construction materials yesterday.

The Hive centre, which is at the University of Bath’s building research park, based at the site, cost £1m with funding coming from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Construction companies and research groups across the globe can use the Hive to aid research into environmentally friendly construction materials.

Researchers will be able to analyse the energy efficiency, flood resilience, structural capability and internal air quality of the materials.

The Prince, who is the university’s chancellor, said: “Thank you for inviting me, it is great to be here and I enjoyed the fascinating Hive tour and learning about the innovative research.”

He unveiled a plaque to open the centre and spoke with guests.

He joked: “I would not declare myself an expert at plaque unveiling but I’m getting there now. I appreciate the unveiling of a plaque is not the most exciting thing in your lives but when I do it, if you could all pretend and go wild that would be great.”

New building materials must be tested at full scale and in life-size environments, and it can take up to 10 years between testing and adoption of new materials for use in real buildings. The Hive overcomes these problems by offering a plug and play facility with the opportunity to test and evaluate materials and systems which helps to speed up the process.

Lesley Thompson, EPSRC’s director of research, said: “The research and training EPSRC supports aims to improve the resilience of the country’s infrastructure and the sustainability of civil engineering projects.

“The HIVE facility will provide a variety of realistic environments in which to test materials and construction methods. We look forward to hearing the results of the work here and seeing how those can be translated into the civil engineering sector.”

The building has eight individual cells which are carefully constructed to be completely insulated from each other, each with a single face left exposed to the external environment. The faces are used to install walls made from a whole range of materials and construction systems, and the performance of these walls is evaluated in real life conditions.

This helps to create a more accurate picture of environmental performance than the assessments currently used in building regulations.

Dr Mike Lawrence, director of the building research park, said: “Finding new, sustainable methods of construction, properly tested in a real building such as the Hive, is essential if the UK is to lead the way in low carbon homes and meet challenging emissions targets.”

The university thanked the Science Museum, which oversees the airfield for accommodating them at the site.

South Swindon MP Robert Buckland said: “It is great to welcome our royal visitor here today.

“Once again Swindon is being used as a centre of national and international research. I’m delighted that the Swindon museum site is being used to home the country’s only site of this nature.”