Human Practices

We engineers and scientists exist to maintain and take our civilization to new heights. How can we possibly expect to do that properly without going out there and understanding the needs and concerns of the people? What good can science bring so long as it remains poorly understood, detached and feared? Consulting different stakeholders empowers both the society AND the scientist, leading to more efficient and accepted solutions.

- iGEM Team EPFL 2022


We structured our Human Practices work around understanding the material, the market and the uses in all possible levels. We tried to be innovative in our approach and methods while keeping the core idea simple. Here below are our values, stakeholder approach and how the other fields of the HESTIA project supported and benefited from our Human Practices work.

Stakeholder overview

As we have progressed in the design of our project, we determined the priorities we had for our project. The key priorities, or values, we had for the HESTIA product shaped our design considerations and our stakeholder approach. Here are the eight values we had in mind as we designed and engineered project HESTIA:

  • Biodegradability: We want our insulation material to have a minimal impact on the environment. Every material in the end product should be non-accumulative and be able to circulate within the ecosystem harmlessly.

  • Sustainability: We want to see our product to be produced through recycled materials and itself being recycled many times over, overall contributing to a circular economy.

  • Modularity: Modern insulation materials have to fulfil a multitude of requirements. Our protein coating has to be able to functionalise the aerogel in more than one way.

  • Ease of Application: For construction purposes, insulation materials need to be sturdy and easy to handle. Making the application of the product as easy as possible is an important objective for end-user satisfaction.

  • Affordability: Even the most ingenious idea has no economic value without financial feasibility. We need our product to be as competitive in price as it is in performance.

  • Thermal Insulation Efficiency: Energy efficiency as a concept depends on efficient thermal insulation. A sign of a society that is conscious of its energy use, is attention to insulation.

  • Safety: To this day the demolishing of old buildings can cause health risks due to old and toxic materials being exposed to contact again. HESTIA absolutely needs to be non-toxic and should pose no acute or long term health risks whatsoever.

  • Longevity: For construction, a happy customer is one that doesn’t need to see the contractor again and again. Longevity is important for any construction material, lest it needs to be replaced more and more frequently, increasing maintenance costs and resource consumption.

Stakeholder analysis
Stakeholder Approach

HESTIA sits in a unique intersection of synthetic biology, material science, construction and energy strategy. We wanted to utilise this intersection to gather a broad range of perspectives and to understand what each stakeholder expects from an insulation material within the context of their objectives and interests.

We have developed our stakeholder approach to reflect this diversity while maintaining an overall direction and purpose. As such, we have chosen to perceive our stakeholders through the lens of the supply chain. From raw material considerations to possible end usage implementations, we have considered any substantially involved actor as a possible stakeholder, and engaged them in accordance with their needs and desires. We have engaged with:

  • researchers and insulation producers to understand the needs of an insulation material and how it is produced,

  • construction companies and architects to see how these materials are used and applied for different purposes,

  • SDG accelerators and policy makers to assess how these materials plays a part in a sustainable energy strategy as an important asset,

  • Ordinary citizens and homeowners to understand their wishes and concerns about safety and cost-efficiency.

This approach helped us understand and design our insulative aerogel under all possible contexts.

Relating Fields

Proposed Implementation

The future implementation of our insulation material was a guiding consideration in our Human Practices, and is the main motivation behind our supply chain model. The Proposed Implementation therefore was the major field where the stakeholder feedback was integrated. The raw material choice, the strategic applications within a building and the addition of recycling systems as a service were some of the major Integrated Human Practices contributions to the Proposed Implementation.

Click to discover the Proposed Implementation Page

Supporting Entrepreneurship

Selling a product means selling an idea and a process. Our Human Practices work was crucial to understand the current state and the needs of the insulation market. Understanding the production process and also the application in construction and architecture helped us create a sustainable and feasible business model valid assumptions and strategies.

Click to discover the Supporting Entrepreneurship Page

Sustainable Development Impact

Sustainability was a chief objective in our initial project design. Choice of cellulose as the aerogel material and functionalising this specific material itself was also due to this concern. Thanks to our Human Practices work we learnt that the amount of energy used to produce the material was equally important, and coupling a recycling service to the proposed implementation and the business model would be a necessary design element.

Click to discover the Sustainable Development Impact Page

Education and Communication

Consulting stakeholders is naturally linked to educating the society and ourselves while communicating the core idea of our project. Our Model United Nations focus group also linked the Education & Communication and Human Practices further, as we both learnt the concerns and thoughts of our fellow university students while also pushing deeper awareness into synthetic biology and energy consumption. It also introduced the group-specific method approach we had for the Education & Outreach to the Human Practices.

Click to discover the Education and Communication Page

Human Practices Stakeholders

Swiss Federal Office of Energy

Type: Regulator and Policy Director


Two fingers of water, place a lid on the pan and turn off the cooker as soon as the water boils to take advantage of the residual heat.

Producing an insulation material is one thing, yet determining the wider context it will be in is another. To see how the energy strategy of an entire country is managed and to understand the priorities of the policy makers and how insulation plays a role in these, we talked to the Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE).

SFOE is the branch responsible for energy use and energy supply, operating under the Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications. They also provide advice to cities, communes and private entities in Switzerland for being more energy efficient. Thanks to our exchange with SFOE, we saw insulation from the lens of a national strategy and as an asset to be cultivated and further developed. We equally gained insights into the priorities of the Swiss Energy Strategy 2050, aiming for a carbon neutral Switzerland by 2050.

We saw that the SFOE takes energy efficiency seriously, and promotes the development of insulation materials. In this, the SFOE’s main consideration is the λ-value (thermal conductivity) above all others. The SFOE sees energy efficiency in conjunction with more sustainable heating systems, and this drive is one of the main pillars of the current energy strategy for the building stock in Switzerland.

MUN Swiss Parliamentary Debate

Type: University Students (Citizenry)

abstract image description

So, the only way to move forward from here is to set up an interdepartmental committee?

We construct buildings to house and provide functional spaces to people. It is therefore absolutely paramount to engage the common citizenry, especially the new generation, while keeping in mind the societal implications. This requires a connection between Human Practices and Education & Communication. To hit two birds with one stone, we engaged the university students and the future policy makers of Switzerland with a twist: We organised a Model United Nations inspired focus group!

We brought eleven university students from different, non-biology backgrounds together to simulate the Environment, Spatial Planning And Energy Committees (ESPEC) of the Swiss Federal Assembly. The participants debated about how to address the upcoming energy crisis, the current GMO regulations in Switzerland and how GMO-related products can be introduced to other fields and what regulations would need to follow. The participants have presented their own views, and the results of the debate were presented in two resolutions written in the UN format, acting as opinion papers for the ESPEC. Overall, the participants were all supportive of alleviating the burden of the energy crisis and a reduction in energy consumption, and enthusiastic about the introduction of synthetic biology applications to diverse fields while maintaining a cautious approach on the regulations.

Olivier H.

Type: Property Owner (Citizenry)

The purpose of the renovation was ecological first, economical second

After having covered the technical side of insulation materials and applications, we wanted to go to the common citizenry again. Property owners are also key players in the insulation field, as they have to make decisions on how to insulate or renovate their property based on the available options and their own resources and desires.

We interviewed Olivier H., owner of a Neo-Gothic house in the heights of Vevey. More than a century old, it is a protected building of regional interest (class 3), and the interior was last touched only in the 60s. He has recently renovated the insulation of his house.

With Olivier, we discussed the reasons for undertaking this renovation work, the challenges he encountered, the progress and the expectations he has of his new insulation installation.

Integrated Human Practices Stakeholders

ISOVER Saint-Gobain

Type: Insulation Producer

abstract image description

We might be consuming a lot of energy to produce glass wool. Yet if you look at the whole picture on a long term scale, we have a fairly small impact on the environment. The energy used to produce our insulating materials is amortised in a few months with the savings in heating and air conditioning.

In order to come up with a new insulation material, one should first understand the intricacies of the current applications. For that, what can be better than seeing the process firsthand by visiting an insulation material production facility?

ISOVER is the insulation branch of the global Saint-Gobain construction group, headquartered in France. They are the leading producer of glass wool in Switzerland, with a distinct “Swiss-made” mindset. Our discussions with ISOVER gave us crucial insights about how insulation materials are produced on an industrial scale, which qualities and standards are expected from them and how to best achieve maximum insulation with minimal material usage. Through them, we also got to know the global insulation market better and received ideas for specific material implementations.

Canton of Vaud / Directorate General for the Environment

Type: Local/Cantonal Government

abstract image description

Renovation of all buildings in Switzerland might become mandatory very soon

The construction of new buildings or the restoration of old ones, as well as regional energy policy, is regulated at a cantonal and local level in Switzerland. For us in Lausanne, the relevant authority is the Canton/State of Vaud and its specific branch: the Directorate General for the Environment (DGE).

We therefore interviewed Dr. Charles Thoumyre Lecomte, a research engineer working at DGE. As he is specialised in the thermal study of buildings and their simulation, he was able to advise us in our approach to modelling heat transfers, as well as in our understanding of the expectations of the cantonal authorities, the energy and insulation requirements determined by the existing legal framework based on the Swiss Society of Engineers and Architects (SIA) standards, and the relevant labels in Switzerlands for energy efficiency. Dr. Thoumyre also explained to us the current status of the construction sector in Switzerland, and his advice on the issue was important for our Supporting Entrepreneurship work.


Type: Building Commissioner and Construction Project Developer

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The insulation material [mineral wool] is placed between an inner wall and outer wall. The material itself has acoustic insulation properties by itself, but within this double wall system, it acts as a spring and absorbs the sound coming out

Radio Télévision Suisse (RTS) is the French speaking branch of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation. They are very well known in the French speaking part of Switzerland, their two TV channels reaching a 1.2 million viewer count per week in 2019. For our purposes, RTS has commissioned a new HQ building, in the EPFL campus.

We thought that visiting the RTS construction site would be a perfect opportunity for us to see the construction principles and the use of insulation in action. We contacted the head architect, discussed the technical specifics of the project and were given a tour of the construction site.

It was through this visit that we have seen that insulation is an important tool to craft different rooms and spaces with desired functions, such as sound insulation for news broadcasts studios. We also observed how the insulation material was applied, the sound insulation for the studios being applied between two layers of walls. Lastly, we were told how the longevity concerns and the cost-benefit considerations of the project guided the choice of labels the project designers were aiming for.


Type: Research Institute

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20% of the global aerogel market is dedicated to insulating buildings. 25-50% of this section is in Switzerland

Aerogel is a fairly new and niche material, a particular product of the material science field, with unique challenges in mass production. We needed a stakeholder with thorough experience in aerogels both as research materials but also in an industrial context.

The Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA) is a multidisciplinary Swiss research institute with deep connections to academia and industry. We met Dr. Ivan Lunati and Dr. Wim Malfait to understand the scientific interests and concerns behind aerogels (scientists as stakeholders), how the current industrial scale production of aerogels is achieved, how material science contributes to a more sustainable society and the challenges our solution had to overcome to compete with the existing application: silica aerogel.

Voumard and Mercier

Type: Architects

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Let's imagine the habitat as a storage space, fully demountable after use, with a view to drastically reducing its environmental impact

Julien Voumard, ES technician in architecture, and Augustin Mercier, EPFL graduate architect, joined forces in 2016 to create an office attempting to give back time to the preparation of the construction site, to experimentation, to personalised accompaniment. Our discussion turned to technical, legal, economic as well as conceptual issues!

Viviane Hamon

Type: Sustainable Renovation Consultant

abstract image description

We went from an economic logic towards a decarbonation logic, but shouldn’t we take the step further and consider systemically the whole impact on the environment, including air and water pollution, along with resource depletion?

We met with Viviane Hamon, sustainable renovation consultant, to better understand the insulation landscape. We discussed the existing bio-sourced solutions, the actors involved in renovations, the challenges of creating a new material and the potential implementation of our product. We also address the role of the customer, supported by experts, subject to technical and economic details and master of the final decision. Finally, it is her reading recommendations (in particular the excellent "L'isolation thermique écologique" by Jean-Pierre Oliva and Samuel Courgey) that have greatly assisted us in our basic understanding of insulation and the challenges that result from it.

Integrated Human Practices

Manufacturing and Characterisation Objectives

Our discussions with researchers, regulators and insulation producers showed us what was expected from an insulation material, both on a technical level and an application level. The stakeholder feedback we have received was important to determine critical elements of our project design, particularly the Proposed Implementation, and led us to make certain choices along the way and let go of certain proposals.

Choice of Aerogel Protocol

Through our discussions with the researchers in EMPA, we learnt that the exact classification of a cellulose aerogel is debated in certain points, mostly on pore size and porosity (percentage of volume occupied by pores). While nanoporous materials are unanimously considered as aerogels, macroporous materials are a matter of debate, with a sizable section of the scientific literature considering these materials as aerogels as well.

The most porous cellulose aerogels are usually produced through a TEMPO Oxidation and Critical Point Drying process. While the ideal choice, we deemed the process to be stretching our safety concerns for the chemical composites involved. Instead, we opted for an easier process of a cellulose suspension being gelated and lyophilised. This process does give us macropores and a lower porosity, yet the ordered cellulose structure as a porous structure remains the same, and still works for the protein coating attachment proof-of-concept.

Stakeholders involved: EMPA

Hydrophobic Silk Biofilm

Through both research and stakeholder consultation, we realised the importance of hydrophobicity for not just construction purposes but also for the aerogel itself. Aerogels can lose as much as half their volume after the Critical Point Drying process if they are not hydrophobic.

In order to address this we added a silk protein domain, the N[As]4C recombinant consensus sequence from the green lacewing species Mallada signata, to the initial protein coating design, resulting in the 01a mSA-silk-CBD construct. The N[As]4C can polymerize and form a hydrophobic biofilm, which then binds to the surface of the cellulose aerogel.

Stakeholders involved: EMPA

Target λ-value

Thanks to our consultation with EMPA, we understood that any application of cellulose aerogels as serious competitors to the existing silica aerogel applications must have a competitive thermal conductivity / λ-value to be considered in the first place.

As such, in accordance with the feedback we got from EMPA, we decided to nominally aim for a λ-value below 0.020 W/mK for our project design. In fact, this value is an overall objective in the material science community for the cellulose aerogels, with one study even seeing 0.018 W/mK1. This aim is set due to the fact that silica aerogels can have λ-values as low as 0.015 W/mK2, while more conventional materials struggle to reach the 0.020 W/mK mark.

A competitive λ-value is also important for recognition by the federal government and the scientific community. The Swiss Federal Office of Energy subsidises insulation material projects based on the λ-value they reasonably aim for, as it is the chief criterion as an asset for the energy efficiency pillar of the national energy strategy. For the scientific community, an intersection between high insulative performance and sustainability is a chief area of interest that can lead to further research.

Stakeholders involved: EMPA, SFOE

Production Method

Seeing the production process of both silica aerogels and glass wool was instrumental for the industrial scale production in our Proposed Implementation. While no industrial scale production method exists for cellulose aerogels, we can nevertheless look at the production methods of similar methods and infer a way forward worth investigating in the future.

Silica aerogels are produced on an industrial scale by embedding the hydrogel in insulative sheets, as the aerogels themselves are fragile. The sheets are then rolled up into cylinders and Critical Point Dried in big cylindrical dryers. The λ-value is naturally higher in the end product, but the trade-off for the ability to apply the material is usually tolerable.

For our purposes, we hypothesised a process inspired by the current industry practice: embedding the cellulose hydrogel in cellulose sheets. Cellulose sheets are insulative materials already in use, and can be obtained from recycled cellulose sources. As the cellulose sheets also contain ordered cellulose comformations, our protein coating would still be a valid application. To match the amount of proteins needed to coat the sheets, we experimentally confirmed, with the input of the Protein Production and Structure Core Facility (PTPSP) experts, that the BL21(De3) E.coli strain was the best for the upscaling purposes.

Stakeholders Involved: EMPA

Recycling System
Cantonal reserves for storage of type a materials are declining
Cantonal reserves for the storage of type A materials3.

As explored in our Sustainability Impact Page, we were informed that the Canton of Vaud is rapidly running out of space to deposit construction material waste3. As such, it is expected that construction materials, especially material installations that need periodic renewal, with efficient recycling systems and services will be much needed.

Coupled with the highly inefficient rate of recycling in Switzerland, we decided to add a recycling service/system to our Proposed Implementation. This system will be based on collecting the used insulation material, separating the protein coating and the cellulose, and then producing regenerated cellulose aerogels or recycled cellulose sheets from the obtained cellulose.

Stakeholders Involved: ISOVER

Application Strategies

The use of aerogels as insulation materials already exists, but the technology is still being pioneered, and the cost of such an insulation is considerable. While we expect lower costs for the cellulose aerogel, it is still important to find strategic applications where the aerogel truly shines, and the best thermal insulation is achieved for minimal use of material.

Use in Renovation

Thanks to our discussion with the Canton of Vaud - DGE, we know that it is highly probable that upcoming legislation in the canton but also in Switzerland will introduce tighter regulations for highly energy consuming buildings, making renovation compulsory.

Equally, aerogels can achieve the same low thermal conductivity with considerably shorter material thickness compared to conventional insulation materials. This fact makes aerogels ideal for the renovation of old buildings, whose insulation must be done externally while still not overreaching into the pedestrian sidewalks or losing outer wall details.

This is why we decided to focus on the use of our product primarily on renovation projects. We believe it is as important to make the old buildings energy efficient as constructing new buildings to be energy efficient, and it is a field of application where aerogel insulation truly shines.

Stakeholders Involved: Canton of Vaud, EMPA, ISOVER

Combatting Thermal Bridges
Thermal bridge illustation
Thermal bridge schematic where the heat flow through the non-insulated edge is indicated with a red arrow

Thermal bridges are points in a system or construction where the flow of heat can take place more easily compared to the rest of the system. For the thermal insulation of buildings and thermal envelopes, thermal bridges are serious shortcomings as they compromise the energy efficiency by allowing the interior heat to easily escape.

A frequent case of thermal bridges in buildings is in the windows. Usually, there will be a difference in distance between the edge of the outer wall and the positioning of the window. If not insulated properly, heat can flow out easily from the surface created by this distance. The issue with this specific surface is that conventional insulation materials are too thick to be placed in there, or else the windows need to get considerably smaller.

As pointed out by ISOVER; aerogels, requiring a lot less thickness, would be a good solution to this problem. Since the aerogel can be applied as a thin layer, the thermal envelope of the building would be perfected with minimal use of material, while aesthetic design choices can be maintained. We consider the use of the HESTIA product to combat undesired thermal bridges as an excellent example of cost-efficient and strategic application.

Stakeholders Involved: ISOVER

Use in a Double Wall System
Double wall system
Double wall system (cavity wall system) example, with two brick walls and a fibre insulation material in between

Through our consultation with architects and the RTS construction site visit, we decided that it would be wise to couple the protein coated cellulose aerogel with a double wall system for conventional insulation applications.

A double wall system (also known as cavity wall) is a wall construction technique where two layers of walls are constructed parallel to each other, with a cavity in between. Either air or an insulation material is placed in between the walls. Especially when coupled with (wooden) supports, the double wall system alleviates mechanical stress from the insulation material. For certain insulation materials, a double wall application heightens the sound insulation properties as well.

We believe such an application would be ideal if the HESTIA product is to be used. The setup would be ideal for the aerogel sheets as it would complement the thermal insulation and reduce mechanical stress.

Stakeholders Involved: RTS

Legal and Label Requirements

Insulation materials are items subject to legal regulations. They are also important assets for architects and civil engineers when aiming for specific labels for the buildings they are designing. Here are the two most relevant examples of such considerations in Switzerland that we have encountered through our Human Practices work: The Minergie Label for energy and the Society of Swiss Architects and Engineers (SIA) Norms.

Double wall system

Minergie is a Swiss construction label focusing on energy efficiency, supported by the industry, the local governments and the federal government. It emphasises on a holistic approach to energy efficiency: A comprehensive thermal envelope/shell, controlled air flow and a minimum usage of renewable energies for heating. Depending on the desired efficiency, Minergie has the following grades: Minergie, Minergie-P, Minergie-A, ECO and more.

We imagine and recommend the use of HESTIA in Switzerland within the context of the Minergie label. Efficient insulation is important, but it can only do so much on its own. It is through comprehensive approaches that we can bring the best possible performance in an insulation material and achieve remarkable success in energy efficiency. Plus, while Minergie doesn’t promote any one insulation material, it does track the environmental impact of those materials. As we aim for a more sustainable insulation material, we see it as essential for a recognition from Minergie as an important step for HESTIA’s future.

Stakeholders Involved: ISOVER, RTS, Canton of Vaud

SIA Norms

The Society of Swiss Architects and Engineers (SIA) Norms are a set of standards that have become the generally accepted rules for construction in Switzerland. While not laws by themselves, the SIA Norms are usually used as attachments and baselines to many construction contracts, and their technical guidelines are important points, filling in the gap of national regulations caused by the decentralised approach of Switzerland in construction regulation. We have been informed of these norms repetitively through different stakeholders.

For ensuring compliance with the Swiss law, we aimed to make sure that our insulation material was in accordance with all the stipulations of the SIA Norms on insulation. Two norms were paramount for this objective:

Norm 2794 for regulating the material property requirements of insulative materials.

This norm provides an exact definition of what an insulation material is: Materials expected to reduce heat transfers whose insulative properties stem from their chemical nature or physical structure. Norm 279 also establishes a maximum thermal conductivity value of λ = 0.1 W/mK for a material to be considered as insulative.

The norm equally gives instructions on packaging information, testing methods and quality control, all important for our Proposed Implementation. The declared λ-value, λD, from a company must be derived from a calculated lambda value (λ 90/90), obtained from a control within the factory production, valid for 90% of the population with a confidence interval of 90%, with additional environmental conditions in mind.

In annex, the expected λ-values of certain insulation materials are provided, acting as a second quality check. For our purposes, we saw that the λ-value of silica aerogels are on average λ = 0.024 W/mK, while company specific samples can go as low as 0.016 W/mK. This verified the approximate 0.020 W/mK goal suggested by EMPA, and led our thermal conductivity analysis.

Norm 180 for application requirements to ensure optimal thermal insulation in buildings.

The Norm requires all buildings to be as airproof as possible, or at least have controllable air flow, so as to not compromise the thermal envelope of the building. This is to be achieved through insulating not just the walls but also the floors and the roof as well.

Norm 180 equally specifies certain U-values to be targeted for the entire building during summer and winter. The U-value is the coefficient of thermal transmission [W/m^2*K], defined as the quotient of thermal flux per unit surface of the material. These requirements are important for construction design purposes.

Most importantly for our project, the norm dictates that for protecting the organic insulation materials from deformation, the relative humidity of the air inside the building must remain within 30% - 70% for an altitude of 800m. As a local example, the city of Lausanne is 526m above sea level, so this condition holds for our purposes.

Stakeholders Involved: ISOVER, RTS

Business Model

Thanks to stakeholder consultation, we managed to get an accurate description of the insulation and the construction markets in Switzerland. Thanks to EMPA, we also managed to acquire some specific market data, which is not necessarily easy to acquire on our own. We also received advice for the best strategies to introduce our product into the market as smoothly as possible.

Entry to market

Through our discussions with the Canton of Vaud DGE, we have learnt about the current state of the construction sector in the canton and Switzerland in general. There is a significant saturation in the market, making the introduction of HESTIA into the market as a start-up as an ill-conceived idea. The recommendation we got was to sell the idea to existing actors on the market instead.

Stakeholders Involved: Canton of Vaud

Market Analysis Data

Market analysis data is not necessarily easy to achieve for outsiders. Thanks to stakeholder consultation, we managed to get critical data about the insulation market, and especially about the size and the allocation of resources within the current aerogel insulation market.

Stakeholders Involved: EMPA, ISOVER


Overall, we aimed to reach key stakeholders involved in insulation and aerogels. We used our supply chain approach to compare, contextualise and classify the feedback from different stakeholders by keeping the individual stakeholder context in mind. The insights they gave us were eye-opening in many fields and helped us to develop a meaningful and realistic product that is crafted in accordance with the needs of the society and its many actors.


  1. Jiménez-Saelices, Seantier, Cathala & Grohens (2017)
    Spray freeze-dried nanofibrillated cellulose aerogels with thermal superinsulating properties
    Carbohydrate Polymers, vol. 157, pp. 105-113
  2. Wang, Petit & Ren (2020)
    Transparent thermal insulation silica aerogels
    Nanoscale Advances, vol. 2, no. 12, pp. 5504-5515
  3. C.Baechtold, A. Harari (2022)
    Un ranch pour Avni Orllati
  4. SIA Norm 279 SN 556279:2018 fr