Banking on construction materials for eco-benefits
The building industry produces a significant volume of waste which, in turn, creates a sizeable environmental impact. EU-funded research has developed know-how and tools to help the construction sector embrace the circular economy and increase the reuse, reconfiguration and recycling of products, materials, components and buildings.
© h368k742 - fotolia.com
Updated on 20 July 2020
The construction industry is one of Europes largest industrial sectors, representing 10 % of total GDP and providing some 20 million jobs. However, it is also responsible for around 40 % of greenhouse gas emissions, uses more than 50 % of the raw materials extracted from the Earth, and generates around one third, in volume, of all waste produced in the EU.
To establish a future sustainable society, the building sector must move towards a circular economy, whereby buildings and building materials are repeatedly reused, recycled, adapted and rebuilt. The EU-funded BAMB project developed, demonstrated and integrated approaches, methods and tools to support this shift.
The circular economy is more than a recycling economy, says project coordinator Caroline Henrotay of Bruxelles Environnement, the public administration in charge of energy and environmental issues in the region of the Belgian capital. It is about keeping buildings, their products and materials at their highest utility and value at all times by taking circularity into account from the design stage, so that we dont create the same issues in the future.
BAMB has helped to raise awareness of the need and scope to design for circularity. The concept is gaining traction in the construction industry, although there is still a long way to go, Henrotay notes.
The key is ensuring the value of materials is not lost, says project communications coordinator Lisa Apelman from Cefur the Center for Research and Development in the Ronneby Municipality in Sweden. Whether an industry goes circular or not depends on the value of the materials within it. Worthless materials are considered as waste, while valuable materials are reused or recycled. Increased value means less waste.
And that is what BAMB created: ways to maintain and enhance the value of building materials.
Passports for the future
The BAMB project advanced two key concepts: materials passports and reversible building design.
Materials passports are digital data sets that describe the characteristics of materials and provide information on the recovery and reuse potential. BAMB developed a materials passport platform as a proof-of-concept to support the generation of these passports and enable access to them.
By the end of the project, more than 400 operational materials passports had been produced, Henrotay notes. While the platform in itself will not be developed further, the methodology created in the project has supported the development of a new initiative that strives to standardise the various approaches in this area, she adds.
Reversible building design is a strategy for the production of structures that can be easily transformed or deconstructed, enabling parts to be added or removed without damaging the building, the products, the components or the materials. This approach allows for the inherent value of materials to be maintained through resource-efficient repair, reuse and recycling. To facilitate the application of this strategy, BAMB developed a reuse potential tool, a transformation capacity tool, and a design protocol and virtual simulator.
Building models and pilots
Further attention in the project focused on the development of a circular building assessment tool. The two key concepts explored in BAMB and the various other tools developed in the project are brought together in this tool, which is compatible with building information models, Henrotay explains.
It supports circularity by integrating materials passports and reversible building design aspects, enabling users to assess the environmental impact of a new construction or a refurbishment project across the entire life cycle. The tool also provides life-cycle cost information, she adds.
Providing decision-makers with the means to measure design reversibility and quantify aspects such as the associated environmental impact has made a very significant difference. It enables stakeholders to base decisions on quantitative information rather than intuition, Henrotay explains.
In addition, BAMB developed new business models and policy recommendations to enable the systemic shift in the building sector towards the circular economy. The partners demonstrated and refined these new approaches and technologies through six real-scale construction pilots.
The projects case studies and protypes showed that reversible building design can halve the greenhouse gas emissions associated with resource use in a building by transforming it and reusing materials. They also revealed that the approach and tools put forward by BAMB can reduce construction and demolition waste by 75 % or even 95 %.
BAMB ended in February 2019. Work to improve its various tools continues, and its outcomes are now feeding into new projects in this area.
We have created a holistic approach that ensures circularity of buildings and of the materials that compose them throughout their entire life cycle, and possibly even throughout several life cycles, Henrotay concludes.