Sustainable construction materials – A future outlook
Currently, the construction industry is making a significant impact on the environment; thus, it becomes extremely important that companies work towards maximising the positive benefits while minimising its negative factors.
The first thing that often comes up when discussing the future of construction is sustainability. The building sector is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), with occupied buildings being responsible for nearly 40% of global GHG emissions, according to Architecture 2030.
Around 40-50% of total flow of raw materials in the global economy is used in the manufacturing of building products and components, adding significant amounts and energy and greenhouse gas emissions to the life cycle impact of buildings.
The construction industry needs to look at how to protect the Environment. This is, after all, the only planet we can live in, so promoting sustainability will serve us — and future generations.
Some important examples of sustainable construction materials are described below:
Also known as Engineered Cementitious Composite (ECC), bendable concrete is a type of concrete that can withstand bending. Unlike conventional concrete, which is brittle and can easily crack or break, bendable concrete is five hundred times more resistant to cracking and is more effective at absorbing shock.
This is because ECC contains small, polymer-based fibers that increase the material’s ductility. While bendable concrete is made up of the same ingredients. it’s these fibers that make ECC more flexible and durable.
Bendable concrete is also more sustainable. It can be infused with carbon dioxide, which strengthens the concrete while using less cement and lowering carbon emissions.
ECC’s ductility also decreases the financial and environmental costs of buildings. Whereas traditional concrete breaks easily and typically require repairs, bendable concrete can withstand higher amounts of pressure.
Bendable concrete has been known for decades and has proven to be durable and effective.
Mass timber products are created by mechanically bonding various types of softwood to form large prefabricated wood components. It can come in several forms, including cross-laminated timber (CLT), laminated strand lumber (LSL), laminated veneer lumber (LVL), nail-laminated timber (NLT), and glue-laminated timber (GLT).
Mass timber has been gaining traction in the United States, and builders are increasingly using it for things like roofs, floors, beams, columns, and more.
On the sustainability side, mass timber serves as a viable substitute for traditional construction materials like steel and concrete, which have a higher carbon footprint. Using mass timber instead of conventional building materials can significantly reduce emissions.
A study published in the Journal of Building Engineering, compared the environmental impact between a reinforced concrete building and a hybrid CLT commercial building and found that “an average of 26.5 per cent reduction in the global warming potential is achieved in the hybrid CLT building compared to the concrete building, excluding biogenic carbon emissions.”
Reusing and recycling materials have long been key tenets of sustainability. Construction pros can apply these green principles by opting to use salvaged materials in their projects. Doing so gives construction materials a second life and helps keep waste out of landfills.
Another sustainable alternative to conventional construction materials, bamboo is highly flexible, allowing builders to use it for both structural and decorative purposes. It’s easy to find and source bamboo, as the tree grows in various parts of the world.
What’s more, bamboo produces very little waste. A whole stem of a bamboo tree can be used in construction, and any pieces left over are compostable, which means they naturally break down back to the earth.
The words “mushrooms” and “construction” don’t typically belong in the same sentence, but mycelium fungi may start to change that.
Mycelium is the vegetative structure of a fungus and when dried, it is highly durable and resistant to mold, water, and fire. Like bamboo, mycelium is organic and compostable, so it leaves little waste and has virtually no negative impact on the environment.
When combined with materials like timber, sawdust, and demolition waste, mycelium can be molded into bricks used for constructing buildings and their parts.
Precast concrete is created offsite before being transported to the job site. Unlike site cast concrete, which is poured, molded, and cured on-site, precast concrete is cured in the manufacturer’s facility and shipped to the construction site.
Precast concrete slabs are more sustainable because they take less energy and materials to produce. You can also reuse construction processes such as molds and forms, thereby reducing waste.
Some of the world’s most famous structures use this material. For instance, the shells on the roof of the Sydney Opera house are made out of precast concrete.
3D Printed Concrete
3D printing can have a major impact on construction productivity and sustainability. 3D concrete printing allows you to digitally design any shape and bring — or rather print — it to life in the real world.
Unlike traditional construction, which uses up plenty of energy due to having to transport materials and go through supply chain complexities, 3D printing allows builders to design and construct faster, thus saving time, money, and energy. And because the formwork is reusable, 3D printed concrete produces less waste.
Currently, the construction industry is making a significant impact on the environment; thus, it becomes extremely important that companies work towards maximising the positive benefits while minimising its negative factors. Fortunately, there are plenty of steps construction companies can take to ensure both their materials and their manufacturing processes lead to sustainability in construction. These steps are good for the environment, as well as the company’s bottom line.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Visiting Professor, Pennsylvania State University, PA 16802, United States of America. Earlier he worked with Udaipur Cement Works Limited, (a subsidiary of JK Lakshmi Cement).