Blog Description

Innovations Accelerating Green Construction

Infrastructure | Jul, 2023

The built environment and construction sector accounts for nearly 39% of the global carbon emissions and approx. 36% of global energy consumption. Currently, 4.4 billion inhabitants live in cities and the number is projected to increase by 80% by 2050 as the trend of urbanization continues. However, reaching net-zero carbon goal has become a top priority for nations and cities in the wake of climate change. Hence, the real estate and construction industry are embracing green building technologies to transform the way buildings are designed, built, and operated while promoting sustainability and improving the quality of life for building occupants. The ultimate objective of constructing green buildings is to cause a significant reduction in water, material, waste generation, and energy utilization during and post construction. The need for “green” building is not only crucial from a social responsibility perspective but also to stay competitive in the market as end-users are demanding energy-efficient infrastructure. Some of the economic benefits of green buildings include reduced operating costs, improved occupant productivity, enhanced asset value and profits, and optimized life-cycle economic performance.

The green building technologies integrate eco-friendly materials, renewable energy systems, and innovative construction methods to minimize the carbon footprint of buildings throughout their lifecycle, including designing, construction, operation, and demolition. Here are some of the significant innovations that are revolutionizing the construction sector.

  • Passive Solar Design

Whenever we picture solar energy, we think about photovoltaic cells built out on rooftops or large farms capturing sunrays. Despite the notion, solar power generation does not require a ton of equipment and sometimes no equipment at all. There are two ways to harness solar energy via active systems and passive systems. Active systems require devices to convert solar energy into electricity while passive systems include structures that utilize the natural elements of the sun, wind, and shade to collect, store, reflect, and disseminate heat. These days, architects are strategically placing windows, shading devices, and thermal insulations to optimize energy efficiency for heating and lighting. This way, passive solar design can result in reduced consumption of energy and less exploitation of fossil fuel-based energy sources. For instance, the space between double glazing windows is sometimes filled with argon that gives a good insulation effect. The floors are covered with materials that can absorb heat and radiate sun’s heat throughout the home. Skyscrapers are using passive solar energy techniques to increase their efficiency and stop temperature fluctuations inside the building. Buildings built with passive solar design have advantages such as free solar gain from sunlight, lower energy use and utility costs, elimination of harsh sunlight, and more.

  • Electrochromic Smart Glass

Electrochromic smart glass, also known as switchable windows or dynamic windows, utilizes the principle of electrochromism in which materials shift color from transparent to opaque while applying an electrical voltage across them. The electrochromic glass utilizes a tiny gust of electricity to charge ions on a window layer and alter the amount of light entering it. Blocking all the sunlight, these smart glasses can significantly reduce the need for air conditioning. Since electrochromic smart glasses are electricity operated, they can even be regulated by a smart-home controlled system or sunlight sensor. Some of the more advanced electrochromic smart glass combine solar cells that do not reflect away sunlight rather store up the energy for later. According to the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), electrochromic smart glass can save up to one-eighth of the total energy used by buildings in the country. Although smart glass is already in commercial use, these are expected to become more mainstream as developers continue to invest in the smart energy-saving technology.

  • Additive Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing (3D printing) has marked a new era for the construction sector, enabling printing of almost any shape imaginable. Architectures, designers, and builders are leveraging the new and innovative technology for bridges to large multi-storey buildings, internal piping to ventilation systems. 3D printing involves cutting out or removing material from a piece of metal or plastic and successively add layers of material to create a desired object. Materials such as concrete, metal, and resin are being used to build entire structures like bridges and houses, as well as individual building components in both residential and commercial structures. Additionally, the additive manufacturing process requires less materials and results in less wastage compared to traditional construction techniques. Materials used for 3D printing such as concrete and metal are fireproof and waterproof, thus ideal for disaster-prone regions. The technology is being rapidly adopted, owing to the rising urbanization, and increasing need for sustainable alternatives for building materials. China built the first 3D printed a 11-meter bridge that can hold up to 5 adults utilizing modified plastic. Technical University Munich has 3D printed light-weight cement pipes using selective binding.

According to TechSci Research report on “Construction 3D Printing Market – Global Industry Size, Share, Trends, Opportunity, and Forecast 2018-2028F, Segmented By Method (Extrusion, Powder Bonding, Others), By Material Type (Concrete, Metal, Composite, Others), By End User (Building, Infrastructure), By Region, Competition”, the global construction 3D printing market is expected to steady rate through 2028. The factors attributing to the growth include huge rise in green construction projects and advances in 3D printing technologies.

  • Net-Zero Buildings

One of the basic requirements to run an infrastructure is electricity, which generally comes from power grids that utilize fossil fuels to generate it. As the demand for electricity is exacerbating at a rapid rate, it has become essential to become self-sufficient. Net-Zero, or self-sufficient buildings are those that produce electricity without relying on external non-renewable sources. These buildings generate power through renewable energy sources, store it in batteries and use automation technology to manage their system, which results in energy independence and reduced reliance on traditional energy sources. For instance, solar glasses, a new technology developed by the University of Michigan could replace the normal glass of buildings where they could act in the same way as solar panels. In skyscrapers, wind turbines are mounted on rooftops for constant and substantial air currents at higher altitudes that propel the turbine blades and generate enough power to keep the building operation running.

Another way to make buildings efficient is to incorporate smart control and pairing them with renewable energy storage solutions for running everything smoothly. Net-zero buildings rely on real-time and historical data gathered through sensors placed throughout the building to optimize energy consumption and building performance. The predictive system makes real-time adjustments to lighting, heating, and cooling, which not only help reduce the energy use and enhance energy efficiency. Edge building in Amsterdam and Bullitt Center in Seattle are some of the examples of self-sufficient buildings that produce their own energy through solar panels and automate energy usage.

  • Cool Roofing System

Cool roofing system is a growing trend to help keep buildings cooler and make them more energy efficient. In this type of roofing systems, a reflective material is used to protect structures against extreme weather and insulate them as well. The material delivers high solar reflectance and thermal emittance than standard-designed rooftops, which keep buildings cooler and reduce the need for artificial cooling. Another advantage of cool roof systems is that it reduces the wear and tear of roof and potentially extends its life. Industrial warehouses that generate a lot of heat can use the cool roof systems to reduce the temperature and minimize costs.

  • Green Construction Material Alternatives

Concrete, one of the most-consumed material in the construction industry, accounts for around 8% of the global CO2 emissions every year. Cement industry is the second largest contributor of carbon dioxide. Although cement production creates a lot of air pollution, the process cannot be stopped since it is the basic requirement for establishing any infrastructure. The only alternative to cement is green cement, manufactured through carbon-negative production procedure. Green cement requires less natural materials and do not release much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Many mechanisms and technologies have emerged in recent years for green cement manufacture, patented by different manufacturing companies.

Researchers at the University of Tokyo unveiled cement made out of food waste and plastic without additives using heat pressing strategy. The tensile strength of this green cement is more than three times the strength of ordinary concrete. In 2019, researchers from the National Taipei University and Water Resources Department in India revealed that the coarse materials and binding materials used in green concrete can be replaced with natural wastes from agricultural and aquaculture farming. Many more alternatives are merging and though these innovations are at an early stage, they are gradually bringing building materials closer to meeting reduced carbon emissions goals.

According to TechSci Research report on “Saudi Arabia Green Cement Market By Product Type (Fly Ash Based, Slag Based, Limestone-Based, Silica Fume-Based, Others), By Application (Residential, Commercial, Industrial, Others), By End Use (New Construction, Repair and Maintenance), By Region, Competition Forecast & Opportunities, 2018-2028F”, Saudi Arabia green cement market is projected to grow at a formidable rate during the forecast period. Factors attributing to the growth include rapidly expanding construction sector and rising environmental concerns pertaining to the use of conventional cement.

  • Construction Robots

Robotics technology is becoming an important technology in the manufacturing environment, owing to the rising trend of Industry 5.0 and increasing interest towards connected, automated, and efficient processes. While incorporating robotics in construction may require upfront investment, they give long-term benefits such as improved operational efficiency, reduced production costs, and increased profitability. Besides, construction robots have the potential to reduce waste and environmental impact significantly by precisely measuring and cutting materials and thus, making efficient use of resources. Automation capabilities lead to faster completion times that results in lower consumption of energy and reduced environmental footprint. Demolition robots break down materials with accuracy and speed while unmanned aerial vehicles conduct site inspections and monitor progress, quality, and safety. Many startups are investing in creating construction robotics incorporating AI, computer vision, and wireless communication to reduce construction waste significantly while improving efficiency.

Way Ahead

Rising number of green building initiatives that support energy conservation and stringent government regulations to reduce carbon emissions in the construction sector are expected to fuel the adoption of green building technologies in coming years. However, high costs of green building materials and lack of knowledge about the advantages that green building materials serve might pose a challenge for its adoption.

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