BSI Identify - Net zero through implementing breakthrough technologies and modern methods of construction

Net zero through implementing breakthrough technologies and modern methods of construction

Author: Dr Seyed Ghaffar, PhD, CEng, MICE, MICT, FHEA

COP26 agreed in November 2021 that the increase in global temperatures must be kept to 1.5 degrees. Construction, heating, cooling, and demolition of buildings and infrastructure works account for over 40% of worldwide CO2 emissions. Innovation and the implementation of breakthrough technologies in the built environment can crucially contribute to lowering its carbon footprint. Innovation doesn't always mean using technologies that have not yet been invented, rather, it is often about transforming the practices that have been carried out for centuries by adopting new ways of thinking and employing breakthrough technologies from elsewhere to address current issues in the built environment. Some innovative companies are already creating the materials, goods, and services that can help in transforming the built environment. The UK Government’s response to Building to net zero, emphasises that all the relevant stakeholders must intensify their efforts and almost eliminate all emissions arising from the built environment if the legally binding target of an 80% reduction in CO2 by 2050 is to be met. How effective and efficient we are in addressing the specific challenges of the built environment will be crucial to meeting the target. One part of the solution must include the implementation of breakthrough technologies to help in overcoming the challenges associated with modern methods of construction.

Modern methods of construction (MMC) have to be further encouraged as a solution to sectoral challenges, with a particular emphasis on the potential of off-site manufacturing for residential housing. Adopting MMC can have significant environmental advantages, especially when developers use efficient strategies in designs for production, assembly and deconstruction. Offsite housing construction is a radical solution which requires government policy development and demand stimulation, along with undertaking multi-residential demonstration projects to further evidence and fully test the potentials of MMC. Breakthrough technologies such as in the fields of product identification, robotic sorting and robotic manufacturing can be embedded in the factory settings for prefabricated unit developments to truly modernise and transform the methods of construction. By implementing breakthrough technologies, including in MMC, the built environment can achieve the UK's climate commitments. The Ministry of Defence's (MOD) £45 million Net-Zero Carbon Accommodation Programme (NetCAP) is the best example of how MMC help to exceed government targets without incurring additional costs. According to a 2019 report by McKinsey & Company, using an offsite construction method results in overall cost savings when compared to traditional construction methods since it cuts down delivery times for housing, enhances building quality, reduces waste, and requires fewer trades on-site. Modular construction is not the absolute solution for environmentally friendly construction. Other innovations in materials used for MMC are also important for the net zero targets. The use of 3D printing technology in conjunction with innovative printable low-carbon concrete is gaining momentum amongst researchers, however, the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) is low, and more time and investments are required to reach higher TRLs at a feasible cost.

However, employing strategies like optimum design, a reduction in worker and material transportation, and an increase in the annual production of modular manufacturing facilities can lessen material and energy consumption as well as the resulting environmental impacts of modular building projects.

Some of the factors most impeding the implementation of MMC are:

  1. The high initial capital cost;
  2. Lack of design standardization, quality assessment tools and accreditations which are yet to be developed;
  3. The small market demands which leads to increased cost of products and eventually the overall project cost;
  4. High-skilled labour shortage, for both the production of components and modules in factories and for precisely assembling these components on-site;
  5. Traditional procurement methods causing contractual blockades in projects.

The most ideal procurement scenario is when MMC contractors and suppliers are involved throughout the design phase. This will ensure that the manufacturing, fabrication, transportation and installation of the modules occur in a cost and time-efficient manner.

To learn more about BSI and how it supports the adoption of modern methods of construction, visit here.



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