Decarbonising Project Design

12th May, 2022

As a core material to construction, concrete is under pressure to provide details on its sustainability credentials and accelerate the drive to net zero carbon.

As an aid to this aim, Britain’s concrete producers have joined forces in one association to represent the industry and accelerate its journey to beyond net zero carbon emissions. British Precast, whose members include manufacturers of concrete masonry, paving slabs, structural sections and drainage systems, has merged with the Mineral Products Association (MPA) which represents all the UK’s cement makers, over 90% of aggregates producers and more than 70% of ready-mixed concrete suppliers.

The merger gives the British concrete industry a single voice, with the sector’s advocacy vehicle – UK Concrete – driving forward a common agenda to set the record straight about concrete’s role in sustainable construction and address the challenges of climate change. The UK concrete and cement industry has already reduced absolute carbon emissions by 53% since 1990 and the merger will unite the sector behind its ambitious ‘Roadmap to Beyond Net Zero’ by 2050.

“This is a landmark moment in the evolution of the UK concrete industry which is already a global leader in terms of decarbonisation, recycling and biodiversity enhancement,” said Nigel Jackson CEO of the MPA. “Now more than ever the concrete industry must work hand-in-glove to promote the essential role this amazing and under-appreciated material plays in our economy and our quality of life. Mitigating the industry’s environmental impacts whilst delivering solutions that help people to adapt to climate change is an important balance to be struck. With the entire sector united and pulling in the same direction we are better able to achieve our shared goals.”

Alan Smith, who retires as President of British Precast, adds: “British Precast has been affiliated with the MPA for the past decade and the successful relationship we have built has given our members the confidence to fully support this merger. Coming together enables the industry to operate more strategically, rejuvenating our determination to rise to the challenges of climate change and emphasise the importance of our industry in climate adaptation.” A result of the merger, two new MPA product groups have been formed – MPA Precast and MPA Masonry.

Carbon Calculations

Measuring carbon is a complex process and lack of reliable data is a constant source of frustration for many construction and sustainability professionals. Laing O’Rourke has developed a new, industry leading carbon calculator which can quickly analyse levels of embodied carbon using the digital model, enabling its technical team to reduce the carbon content of projects.

The digital tool which has been developed in line with latest industry guidance focuses on the embodied carbon content of the sub- and superstructure elements, which can account for more than half of the upfront embodied carbon in a typical building project.

Since May 2021, Laing O’Rourke’s inhouse technical leaders have used the new calculator on 14 bid submissions, quickly identifying changes that reduced the embodied carbon in the original designs by up to 19%. Phase one of the carbon calculator uses an internal Laing O’Rourke app, which automates the analysis of the digital model. It extracts and indexes key information relating to a project design, such as component quantities and classification information.

“The app creates an auditable trail of all model revisions through the design phase,” says Joanna Vezey, Europe Technical Director at Laing O’Rourke. “This brings benefits not only to carbon measurement, but also change, data validation and cost control. It does this by processing thousands of models each day across both of our operating hubs, constantly checking for new models and changes to existing ones. It currently holds several billion data points.”

In phase two of the process, the app connects to a second database which houses all of Laing O’Rourke’s carbon material data. The company’s material database has been developed using information provided from the Inventory of Carbon and Energy (ICE) database and continues to grow as the business adds Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) data from its supply chain partners.

“The final data is automatically recorded within the database and fed into a user-friendly dashboard, which we can use to assess the embodied carbon in the baseline design,” adds. “It displays the data in real time and presents a carbon heat map of a project – which clearly identifies the embodied carbon of each component and where the greatest reductions can be achieved. This has allowed our teams to present alternative options to clients to reduce embodied carbon.” The detailed analysis is building on the benefits of Laing O’Rourke’s offsite manufacturing capability and operating model.

“Our new carbon calculator cleverly merges data from different systems, analysing carbon content across a project and optimising our DfMAled delivery,” adds Rossella Nicolin, Structures Technical Director at Laing O’Rourke. “These learnings are now better understood and will help our Technology and Innovation team continue to make progress. The construction sector faces a major challenge in finding ways to reduce scope 3 emissions. This breakthrough tool helps us start to make progress. We are looking to broaden the tool’s application to help us decarbonise other standard components of builds and apply it to facades as well as structural works.”

Demand for environmentally efficient technologies is evolving quickly with efforts to reduce carbon emissions being rapidly accelerated through continued product innovation and new building regulations. To date the results have been impressive and have enabled Laing O’Rourke project teams to develop carbon reduction strategies with clients, designers and supply chain partners.

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