Multi-scale, circular economic potential of non-residential building stock

Reducing the demand for new materials and reducing embodied carbon will be one of the most significant challenges that the construction sector faces in the coming decades.

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The 20th century oversaw a 23-fold increase in accumulated resources extracted, including materials currently locked in buildings and infrastructure. This rate of consumption far exceeds the planet's capacity to regenerate, and has serious implications for global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Addressing this interlinked material demand and emissions problem requires a step-change in practice, and implementation of circular economic (CE) reduce-reuse-recycle strategies, where materials are highly valued and remain in use for as long as possible. However, detailed knowledge of material types and quantities that are locked in the building stock is lacking, making estimation of CE potential unfeasible. This project will develop a spatially multi-scale framework to assess CE potential in individual buildings, cities and countries.

Application of this new framework to non-residential construction in the UK will enable estimation of CE potential in the existing stock - at building, city and national level. The framework will utilise bottom-up material flow analysis to assess building level material intensity, embodied carbon and CE potential. This will be combined with remote sensing and satellite data to assess city level building stocks, with demand modelling applied to explore future material demand scenarios - considering different construction mixes and optimised CE potential. The embodied carbon implications of this material demand will also be forecast so it can be considered as part of UK decarbonisation pathways. This will be essential as the proportion of embodied carbon in the whole life carbon of the built environment is only increasing, and will continue to do so as the electricity grid is decarbonised and thus operational GHG emissions are minimised. This research will build the evidence base to demonstrate the role the circular economy can have in tackling these challenges in construction, and provide the knowledge required to facilitate shifts in policy and practice.

Sponsor

ENGINEERING AND PHYSICAL SCIENCE RESEARCH COUNCIL (EPSRC)

Research Themes

Materials

Energy

Project Dates

Start Date : 01/01/2020
End Date : 31/12/2022 

People Involved

Dr Danielle Densley-Tingley

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