New “green” construction solutions have the potential to revolutionise the way New Zealand builds, and could help boost the economy by billions, a business innovation expert says.
The construction and building sector accounts for 39% of carbon dioxide emissions globally, and in New Zealand the built environment is responsible for 20% of emissions.
At the same time, global construction waste is set to double to 2.2 billion tonnes by 2025.
Modelling from Unitec’s Environmental Solutions Research Centre showed that construction and demolition in Auckland alone produced about 25,000 tonnes of plastic waste a year.
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But there were local companies developing ways for the construction industry to be more sustainable and reduce its impact on the environment, Callaghan Innovation construction sector lead Nick Sterling said.
“These solutions are not only better for the environment, but will have a positive impact on the economy too, particularly if the innovation is scaled up internationally, so it has a global impact.”
If the country transitioned to building lower-carbon buildings it could boost the economy by $147 billion, and support 46,000 additional full-time jobs every year between 2025 and 2050, according to new research by economic consultancy BERL.
Sterling said traditionally innovation in the construction sector had been low compared to other sectors, but Callaghan was working with a range of businesses to deliver solutions in this area.
One was Neocrete, which had developed a natural additive for concrete that reduced the amount of cement required in concrete.
Concrete was the second most used material in the world after water, and globally 5 billion tonnes of cement, the key ingredient in concrete, was produced every year, he said.
“This contributes 8% to the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions, but Neocrete’s additive for concrete will reduce embodied carbon by up to 50% while making the concrete more durable.
“The team is working to achieve carbon-neutral concrete by 2026, and this will help to make New Zealand a global centre of concrete innovation.”
Another business was Qorox, which was the first construction business in Australasia to successfully implement concrete 3D printing building solutions that were building code compliant.
Sterling said New Zealand currently produced about four million tonnes of concrete every year, and of that 300,000 tonnes went to landfill.’Green
“But 3D concrete printing is 75% faster, reduces waste by 70%, and has 40% less CO²-emissions when compared to traditional construction.”
While Europe’s first fully concrete 3D printed house was completed in Holland early last year, Qorox was set to complete New Zealand’s first one in several weeks time, he said.
Red Stag-TimberLab was another business working on sustainable construction solutions, but it had a focus on engineered timber products.
It was about reducing the dependence on non-renewable resources, such as steel and concrete, by converting logs into attractive, efficient structural elements for residential and commercial buildings, Sterling said.
“Cross laminated timber products are just as strong as steel or concrete, but also highly sustainable as timber can be rapidly regrown through radiata pine forests.”
The new Scion Innovation Hub – Te Whare Nui o Tuteata in Rotorua, which recently won an award at the prestigious World Architecture Festival, was a good example of innovative timber technology, he said.
The building stored about 418 tonnes of carbon for the life of the building, which was equivalent to the emissions from 160 return flights from Auckland to London, while the amount of wood used could be regrown in 35 minutes.
Sterling said sustainability was now good business as the construction industry was increasingly looking at solutions to respond to climate change, and to add green value to what they did, and the way they worked.
There would be significant economic and social return on the investment made in the businesses developing these solutions, he said.
“It also builds capability in distinct technology, which will give value domestically and internationally, and it future-proofs the construction sector from disruption.”