Buildings and construction are responsible for 39% of carbon emissions globally, according to the World Green Building Council. Operational emissions (from energy used to heat, cool and light buildings) accounts for 28% while 11% comes from embodied carbon emissions, or “upfront” carbon associated with materials and construction processes throughout the whole building life cycle. This makes carbon reduction and environmental initiatives a business imperative for the construction sector and each of its stakeholders.
Technology advances and digitization are helping construction companies move the needle in reducing their carbon footprint and, in some cases, also improve the safety and health of their personnel and lower costs. Following are some of the tech advances being utilized and/or tested to lessen the impact construction work has on the environment.
4D Mapping Technology for Underground Exploration
Diverse industries – from construction to utilities and oil and gas – spend more than $100 billion annually on excavation and drilling, utilizing heavy equipment to see what’s underground before undertaking their operations. During underground exploration, spills, explosions, and project delays often occur, costing billions.
To help address this issue, an Israeli software company created next-generation precision subsurface 4D mapping technology that combines MRI, CT scan, and ultrasound technology with innovative artificial intelligence (AI) for precise imaging. This technology provides an accurate subterranean picture without having to use heavy equipment for exploration. Contractors are able to see what lies beneath the surface – from utility lines to abandoned lines, oil, or anything else – without having to drill. The technology is designed to minimize unnecessary drillings, reduce drilling risks, and save costs; improve workplace safety, mitigate lost-time accidents, and save lives; and reduce on-site machinery for lower greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprint.
Construction practices performed by humans are prone to error, causing material damage and lowering a building’s energy efficiency. For example, when professionals break items on-site, they typically throw them in the dumpster and replace them. The disposal of raw materials creates a significant waste pollution challenge over time. 3D printers are more precise than humans, causing less waste and resulting in high-quality building components.
Individuals can also use the technology for modular construction to build 3D structures offsite in a single location. They reuse materials from one project on another, reducing a company’s waste generation. When the technology completes the modular construction, workers transport the product in a single trip. This reduces air pollution, decreases injuries, and cuts costs and construction time.
Autonomous technology utilizing robotics is being tested to see how we can facilitate infrastructure repairs. For example, robots are being tested to continually monitor for potholes that need repair before initial damage leads to bigger gaps. The idea behind this approach is to minimize problems before they happen and extend the life of an asset. It also reduces environmental impact of unnecessary additional maintenance or preemptive replacement.
Digital twins technology (the exact representation of a physical asset with every configuration) could become an important key tool in reducing the energy consumption of buildings in operation. A report from EY found that digital twins technology can help to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprint of an existing building by up to 50% alongside cost savings of up to 35%.
The computer replica of buildings, proponents say, can analyze a range of data sources, from heating and air conditioning systems to employee schedules, to identify inefficiencies in these systems and propose more energy-efficient approaches. Digital twins technology could also help to reduce the carbon footprint of new buildings and structures by improving the energy efficiency of the construction process and tracking and controlling material and product supply chains to reduce embodied carbon.
There is a great deal of technology innovation underway with tremendous potential for the construction sector to use these advances to transform how the industry builds and to reduce carbon emissions.