Australian Life Cycle Assessment Society conference
The use of timber construction products and their environmental impacts is growing in Europe. This paper examines the LCA approach adopted in the European CEN/TC350 standards, which are expected to improve the comparability and availability of Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs). The embodied energy and carbon (EE and EC) of timber products is discussed quantitatively, with a case study of the Forte building illustrating the significance of End-of-Life (EoL) impacts. The relative importance of timber in the context of all construction materials is analysed using a new LCA tool, Butterfly. The tool calculates EE and EC at each life cycle stage, and results show that timber products are likely to account for the bulk of the EoL impacts for a typical UK domestic building.
The need to lower the embodied carbon impact of the built environment and sequester carbon over the life of buildings has spurred the growth of mass timber building construction, leading to the introduction of new building types (Types IV-A, B, and C) in the 2021 International Building Code (IBC). The achievement of sustainability goals has been hindered by the perceived first cost assessment of mass timber systems. Optimizing cost is an urgent prerequisite to embodied carbon reduction. Due to a high level of prefabrication and reduction in field labor, the mass timber material volume constitutes a larger portion of total project cost when compared to buildings with traditional materials. In this study, the dollar cost, carbon emitted, and carbon sequestered of mass timber beam–column gravity system solutions with different design configurations was studied. Design parameters studied in this sensitivity analysis included viable building types, column grid dimension, and building height. A scenario study was conducted to estimate the economic viability of tall wood buildings with respect to land costs. It is concluded that, while Type III building designations are the most economical for lower building heights, the newly introduced Type IV subcategories remain competitive for taller structures while providing a potentially significant embodied carbon benefit.
The research presents a Carbon Value Engineering framework. This is a quantitative value analysis method, which not only estimates cost but also considers the carbon impact of alternative design solutions. It is primarily concerned with reducing cost and carbon impacts of developed design projects; that is, projects where the design is already a completed to a stage where a Bill of Quantity (BoQ) is available, material quantities are known, and technical understanding of the building is developed.
This research demonstrates that adopting this integrated carbon and cost method was able to reduce embodied carbon emissions by 63-267 kgCO2-e/m2 (8-36%) when maintaining a concrete frame, and 72-427 kgCO2-e/m2 (10-57%) when switching to a more novel whole timber frame. With a GFA of 43,229 m2 these savings equate to an overall reduction of embodied carbon in the order of 2,723 – 18,459 tonnes of CO2-e. Costs savings for both alternatives were in the order of $127/m2 which equates to a 10% reduction in capital cost.
For comparison purposes the case study was also tested with a high-performance façade. This reduced lifecycle carbon emissions in the order of 255 kgCO2-e/m2, over 50 years, but at an additional capital cost, due to the extra materials. What this means is strategies to reduce embodied carbon even late in the design stage can provide carbon savings comparable, and even greater than, more traditional strategies to reduce operational emissions over a building’s effective life.
The objective of this project was to quantify and compare the environmental impacts associated with alternative designs for a typical North American mid-rise office building. Two scenarios were considered; a traditional cast-in-place, reinforced concrete frame and a laminated timber hybrid design, which utilized engineered wood products (cross-laminated timber (CLT) and glulam). The boundary of the quantitative analysis was cradle-to-construction site gate and encompassed the structural support system and the building enclosure. Floor plans, elevations, material quantities, and structural loads associated with a five-storey concrete-framed building design were obtained from issued-for-construction drawings. A functionally equivalent, laminated timber hybrid design was conceived, based on Canadian Building Code requirements. Design values for locally produced CLT panels were established from in-house material testing. Primary data collected from a pilot-scale manufacturing facility was used to develop the life cycle inventory for CLT, whereas secondary sources were referenced for other construction materials. The TRACI characterization methodology was employed to translate inventory flows into impact indicators. The results indicated that the laminated timber building design offered a lower environmental impact in 10 of 11 assessment categories. The cradle-to-gate process energy was found to be nearly identical in both design scenarios (3.5 GJ/m2), whereas the cumulative embodied energy (feedstock plus process) of construction materials was estimated to be 8.2 and 4.6 GJ/m2 for the timber and concrete designs, respectively; which indicated an increased availability of readily accessible potential energy stored within the building materials of the timber alternative.
Manufacturing of building materials and construction of buildings make up 11% of the global greenhouse gas emission by sector. Mass timber construction has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by moving wood into buildings with designs that have traditionally been dominated by steel and concrete. The environmental impacts of mass timber buildings were compared against those of functionally equivalent conventional buildings. Three pairs of buildings were designed for the Pacific Northwest, Northeast and Southeast regions in the United States to conform to mass timber building types with 8, 12, or 18 stories. Conventional buildings constructed with concrete and steel were designed for comparisons with the mass timber buildings. Over all regions and building heights, the mass timber buildings exhibited a reduction in the embodied carbon varying between 22% and 50% compared to the concrete buildings. Embodied carbon per unit of area increased with building height as the quantity of concrete, metals, and other nonrenewable materials increased. Total embodied energy to produce, transport, and construct A1–A5 materials was higher in all mass timber buildings compared to equivalent concrete. Further research is needed to predict the long-term carbon emissions and carbon mitigation potential of mass timber buildings to conventional building materials.
As the population continues to grow in China’s urban settings, the building sector contributes to increasing levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Concrete and steel are the two most common construction materials used in China and account for 60% of the carbon emissions among all building components. Mass timber is recognized as an alternative building material to concrete and steel, characterized by better environmental performance and unique structural features. Nonetheless, research associated with mass timber buildings is still lacking in China. Quantifying the emission mitigation potentials of using mass timber in new buildings can help accelerate associated policy development and provide valuable references for developing more sustainable constructions in China. This study used a life cycle assessment (LCA) approach to compare the environmental impacts of a baseline concrete building and a functionally equivalent timber building that uses cross-laminated timber as the primary material. A cradle-to-gate LCA model was developed based on onsite interviews and surveys collected in China, existing publications, and geography-specific life cycle inventory data. The results show that the timber building achieved a 25% reduction in global warming potential compared to its concrete counterpart. The environmental performance of timber buildings can be further improved through local sourcing, enhanced logistics, and manufacturing optimizations.
This book provides a single-source reference for whole life embodied impacts of buildings. The comprehensive and persuasive text, written by over 50 invited experts from across the world, offers an indispensable resource both to newcomers and to established practitioners in the field. Ultimately it provides a persuasive argument as to why embodied impacts are an essential aspect of sustainable built environments.
The book is divided into four sections: measurement, including a strong emphasis on uncertainty analysis, as well as offering practical case studies of individual buildings and a comparison of materials; management, focusing in particular on the perspective of designers and contractors; mitigation, which identifies some specific design strategies as well as challenges; and finally global approaches, six chapters which describe in authoritative detail the ways in which the different regions of the world are tackling the issue.
Provides a comprehensive, up-to-date guide to embodied carbon calculation and reduction, with a particular focus on understanding uncertainty; includes examples of approaches used by industry professionals, and specific routes to embodied carbon reduction; identifies the methodologies, tools and standards in use around the world.
Project contact is Angelique Pilon at the University of British Columbia
The pilot uses whole-building life cycle assessments (WBLCA) to identify major contributors to embodied carbon impacts. More importantly, the project conducts a critical analysis of the procedural requirements, information gaps, systemic barriers and other challenges for project teams seeking to use LCA as an effective tool in reducing their environmental impacts. The second phase of the Embodied Carbon Pilot project builds on the experiences and learning of Phase 1 while addressing a more common and replicable building typology. The first year, we used mass timber buildings at the University of British Columbia for the pilot LCAs and developed a protocol/strategy for adapting project information into the appropriate bill-of-materials (BOM) format for input into LCA tools, while identifying procedural challenges and barriers and variations of different material take-off methodologies and LCA tools. This second year, we will target mid-rise, multi-unit residential buildings (MURBs), a common and growing building type throughout British Columbia. Mid-rise MURBS are between 4 and 8 stories and typically use wood as one of the primary construction materials: stick-frame construction for projects under 6-stories or an increasing number of mass timber projects.