The University of Liverpool The University of Liverpool CHP Complete

Vital Energi has built a long-standing relationship with the University of Liverpool and the most recent chapter of this partnership saw us transform a derelict former mortuary into a state of the art, 21st century energy centre using a combination of creative design, outstanding engineering and an experienced and talented team of engineers to bring the Grade II listed building back to life.

“The University design team, Vital Energi and their subcontractors have worked well together and have, through the application of good communications, teamwork and a steadfast commitment to making the project a success now reached the important project milestone of topping out the building. Not only will this project secure the future of a listed building but, when finished, it will contribute to a healthier environment by reducing CO₂ emissions and will also provide a financial return on the capital invested from the resultant savings in energy costs.”

Ian Murray Consultant Project Manager for the University of Liverpool

Project Overview

Vital Energi have enjoyed a long relationship with the University of Liverpool, having worked with them for the last 6 years installing district heating and recently being appointed to a four year term contract.

The University has distinguished itself as a pioneer of sustainable energy and it is almost three decades ago that it installed its first 3.5MWe Combined Heat & Power (CHP) engine, which was the largest in an education establishment at the time.

The University has committed to invest £350 million in its academic buildings and £250 million in its student accommodation and as part of that investment it has created one of the most advanced sustainable energy networks of any University in the UK.

With a student population of 22,000 the University of Liverpool is comparable with many mid-size towns and also has 4,700 staff.  Like many universities, Liverpool has seen its energy usage increase substantially in the last few decades, going from 23 million kWh/yr in 1986 to 58 million kWh/yr in 2009, marking an increase of at least 3% each year.

Keeping pace with the energy demand meant the University would have to expand its district heating network and install additional CHP engines and plans were made to convert the Grade II mortuary building at the former Liverpool Royal Infirmary into a new CHP plant.

The Challenge

The University of Liverpool bought the Royal Infirmary in 1994 after it had been closed for 16 years.  The University chose the former boiler house and mortuary building to house its new energy centre and retrofitting a Grade II listed building from the 1890’s brought with it some significant challenges.  This meant that the contractor would need to deliver not only the engineering capital works, but also the complex  building alteration and refurbishment elements of the project.

The building structure needed to be made safe and weather tight and would have to support the extremely heavy CHP equipment while retaining its heritage features.

Approximately 25% of the project would involve building works which had to be delivered to exacting heritage standards and because the project was being retrofitted into a building not designed for that purpose it would involve large amounts of problem solving when it came to issues such as increasing the ventilation.

Vital Energi's Solution

Over 6 years Vital Energi had been designing and installing the expanding district heating networks for the campus, now totalling 7 km of pipe.   The system involved the most accurate alarm system on the market, which can pinpoint leaks from between 1-3m and the Band Muff joint system which reduces heat loss and can help to increase the pipe’s design life up to 50 years.

If you’d like to know more about the district heating installations at the University of Liverpool you can read the full case study here.

Designing an internal structure to accommodate the new, heavy plant equipment, while meeting the requirements of the Local Authority Heritage Officer was paramount to the success of the project and after close consultation with the University’s architects we devised a 3 floor steel structure which took the stress from the load instead of putting it onto the 125 year old building.  The steel frame would also involve minimal alterations to the actual structure.

By effectively creating a “building within a building” we were able to build a structure which could take the heavy plant and equipment which included two 23 tonne CHP engines on the first floor.

The project involved large amounts of restoration work to safeguard the original building.  The original chimney was found to be peeling away from the old mortuary and extensive work was undertaken to stabilize it.   This entailed using a system called Helifix which involved raking all the mortar out at alternative levels, inserting a Helifix metal tie and then filling it with a resin first and then a lime based mortar which matched the look of the original materials.

The building would also need improved ventilation and Vital Energi designed an 11.2m by 4m “Penthouse Louvre section” to meet this demand.  The one-piece, prefabricated steel section was craned onto the roof and installed in just one day.  By prefabricating the Penthouse Louvre off site and installing it in one piece it cut approximately 6 weeks off the programme, saving time and money for the client.

Other work saw the roof of the old mortuary carefully removed, , to allow access for equipment, before being meticulously replaced, with each numbered slate being put back into its original position, a task made more intricate due to the 37 different shapes and sizes of slate involved.  Re-slating work took a total of 16 weeks to complete.  The project also saw 60 windows repaired, renovated or replaced with matching sashes.

One large consideration when designing this project was noise pollution, with the university keen to provide students and staff with a peaceful work and study environment.  Noise reduction was of paramount importance and the CHP engines were placed in acoustic enclosures which ensured acceptable noise levels.


CHP 2 marks the highlight of Vital Energi’s 6-year relationship with the university and will significantly contribute to its aims of reducing CO2 emissions while providing significant financial savings.

The project is the result of over 48,000 accident-free hours of work, which is largely attributed to the excellence of design and outstanding on-site safety and we were particularly pleased to receive two excellent “Considerate Constructor” reports during the course of the project.

In addition to the financial and environmental benefits there is also a strong benefit to the heritage of Liverpool in that a landmark, Grade II listed building is now safe, stable and has a secure future.

One of the main achievements of this job was demonstrating that it is possible to successfully retrofit a 21st century energy centre into a Grade II listed building without compromising performance or heritage features.

Vital Energi are delighted that our involvement with the University of Liverpool will continue as we have secured the 15 year operations and maintenance contract for the CHP2 project.

Key Benefits

  • 48,000 accident free hours of work
  • Internal steel structure allows for minimum alteration to Grade II listed building
  • Original 120 year old structure made safe, stable and waterproof
  • Future proofed campus with energy infrastructure which can easily cope with expansion
  • Most technically complex job we have  performed
  • Financial return from energy
  • Heritage standard of sensitive building alterations
  • 21st Century energy system installed in a Grade II listed building
  • Off-site manufacturing significantly reduced on-site programme time