Sustainable construction is becoming a top priority. According to some estimates, in developed countries, construction is responsible for up to 40% of carbon dioxide emissions. This is an area with ample room for improvement. One of the significant contributors to emissions is the production of cement and concrete. Research is already underway in this area, with technologies such as regenerative or self-repairing concrete or the use of carbon dioxide itself as a raw material. Another aspect of this sustainable philosophy is the recycling of construction materials, with projects such as HISER. Many of these initiatives share the same DNA: the circular economy and zero waste. Software developed at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale of Lausanne (EPFL) is one of the latest contributions. In this case, it involves reusing elements from other buildings or already manufactured ones, such as columns or beams, to create new structures.
This innovative tool has an understandable and straightforward operation. Each time a project is started, the architect enters the design into the program. Also, he adds a database of materials that can be reused. With this information, a first analysis establishes the minimum viable volume of materials while maintaining the structure’s integrity. Following this first step, the program offers more sustainable construction alternatives based on reusable materials. The program also analyzes the total carbon footprint and provides the optimal mix of new and used materials. In this way, the total mass of a building can be increased while reducing the carbon footprint. According to the researchers, the program can reduce greenhouse emissions by up to 60 %. The key to these savings is that the elements are not processed by smelting or other techniques. Instead, they are reused in their original shape.
A database of reusable materials
One of the development team’s proposals is the creation of a Europe-wide accessible database detailing all reusable parts and elements, whether from refurbished buildings or demolitions. In this way, any architect could find the optimal materials for sustainable construction. Jan Brütting, one of the engineers behind the initiative, says that such databases are already being created. He adds that the number of research projects dedicated to the circular economy in construction has multiplied significantly in recent years.
Circular economy in construction, an international commitment
Brütting’s words about the interest in this construction philosophy echo a large scale trend. An example of this is the European Economic Area, which has made the circular economy one of its pillars in the reduction of construction waste. Currently, one-third of the waste produced in Europe comes from this industry.
The recent document “Construction and demolition waste: challenges and opportunities in a circular economy” proposed strategies to alleviate the situation. The main priorities are to increase the useful life of buildings and the recycling and reuse of materials. All this has crystallized in the creation of the European Circular Construction Alliance (ECCA), which is developing numerous initiatives such as the HISER project, as mentioned above, to boost sustainable construction.