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04 Oct 2023

Exploring carbon storage solutions in construction

Exploring carbon storage solutions in construction

The need to achieve carbon neutrality has never been more evident, particularly within the construction sector. PBC Today explores how carbon storage solutions are vital in the quest for sustainability

This sector is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and resource consumption, making it an imperative area of focus for carbon reduction strategies.

In addition to reducing environmental impact, these technologies may potentially offer added value in the form of energy savings or establishing new revenue streams.

This article seeks to illuminate the potential integration of carbon storage solutions into the construction industry.

The need for carbon neutrality

The pressing need for carbon neutrality in the construction sector, given its significant contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, underscores the urgency of exploring and implementing viable carbon storage solutions in this domain.

The benefits of carbon neutrality extend beyond reducing environmental impact; it also presents economic opportunities as technologies for capturing and storing carbon continue to evolve.

As nations strive towards meeting their Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement, sectors such as construction that are highly material and energy-intensive can play a pivotal role in climate change mitigation by balancing their greenhouse gas emissions with removals or compensations.

Strategies for achieving carbon neutrality within the construction sector range from leveraging existing technologies like Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) to investing in emerging negative emission technologies (NETs).

These strategies not only emphasise reducing GHG emissions but also on increasing GHG removals. This dual approach is crucial given the sector’s significant share of primary energy demand, raw material consumption, and associated GHG emissions.

As part of this process, setting top-down carbon quotas for buildings could help regulate emissions while incentivising innovations around effective storage solutions.

Opportunities for carbon storage are vast yet underutilised

There is a range of alternatives ranging from matured techniques like afforestation to nascent ones like ‘artificial trees’ and soda-lime processes.

These technological interventions have the potential to transform how we view our built spaces – not just as consumers of resources but also as repositories helping mitigate climate change impacts.

By fostering an understanding of these possibilities among building designers, stakeholders involved can make informed decisions that enable them to reduce harmful impacts on climate while possibly benefiting from evolving emission trading mechanisms or compensation business models.

Understanding carbon neutrality

Achieving a state of carbon neutrality in the construction sector necessitates an equilibrium between carbon emissions and removals.

This involves implementing sustainable practices that significantly reduce the quantity of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere while simultaneously increasing efforts to absorb or offset these emissions.

Carbon offsetting is one practice that entails compensating for every tonne of CO2 emitted by ensuring an equivalent amount is removed from the atmosphere through various processes.

An important aspect of achieving balance is developing and adhering to effective emission reduction strategies. These can include optimising energy efficiency in buildings, utilising low-carbon materials, and adopting renewable energy sources for power supply.

The widespread adoption of these strategies not only helps to minimise carbon output but also contributes to enhancing the overall sustainability profile of the built environment industry.

Several countries have set ambitious carbon neutrality targets as part of their commitment towards mitigating climate change impacts.

These targets serve as a guidepost for industries, including construction, prompting them to review their operations and make necessary adjustments in pursuit of this goal.

For instance, Norway aims at achieving carbon neutrality by 2030, while Sweden has set its target year as 2045.

Achieving these targets requires concerted efforts from all stakeholders within the industry – from policymakers who formulate stringent laws towards reducing emissions to builders who must adhere strictly to these regulations while constructing eco-friendly structures.

Carbon removal technologies

In pursuit of carbon neutrality in the construction sector, an array of technologies and methods for removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere have been developed.

These technologies often involve either natural or engineered processes that capture and store carbon dioxide (CO2).

The most common method is Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), which involves capturing CO2 from emission sources in industrial sectors, compressing it for transport, and then storing it long-term underground or even at sea floor.

However, while CCS has been actively referred to in climate policy discussions as a key strategy for achieving CO2 reduction targets, there are environmental concerns that may limit its use.

Among these various approaches to carbon removal include:

1. Carbon sequestration methods

This involves the process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide. It’s typically used as a way to slow global warming.

2. Utilising natural carbon sinks

Natural landscapes like forests and oceans can absorb more carbon than they release, helping offset emissions.

3. Innovations in carbon capture

Advances in technology offer new ways to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. This includes direct air capture (DAC), where CO2 is chemically scrubbed directly from the atmosphere.

4. Carbon storage in building materials

Some building materials can absorb CO2 during their production process. For example, concrete made with certain types of cement can absorb CO2 as it hardens.

While these innovative solutions are promising steps toward reducing GHG emissions within the built environment sector, cost implications remain a significant challenge.

For instance, implementing these novel technologies into the construction industry could increase costs by up to 80%.

Despite this hurdle however, recognising and harnessing the potential of creating carbon storages within value chains should not be overlooked by stakeholders within this material-and-energy-intensive sector.

In fact, understanding how best to integrate such strategies could lead not only towards mitigating harmful impacts on climate but also offering benefits through evolving emission trading mechanisms or compensation business.

The role of Negative Emission Technologies

Understanding the role of Negative Emission Technologies (NETs) becomes critical when considering strategies for carbon neutrality in the built environment sector.

NETs are innovative, scientifically-grounded methods that aim to remove carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, effectively reversing emission processes.

The primary objective of these technologies is not merely to reduce emissions but to achieve negative emissions by sequestering more carbon than is released into the atmosphere.

This approach paves the way for new possibilities within environmentally responsible construction practices.

Negative emission strategies encompass a wide array of carbon sequestration methods, each with its unique environmental benefits and challenges.

Some common examples include afforestation, biochar production, energy from biomass with carbon capture and storage (CCS), direct air capture (DAC), ocean liming, accelerated chemical weathering of rocks among others.

These technological advancements in carbon storage offer promising solutions in mitigating climate change impacts associated with high-emission sectors like construction. However, it’s crucial to consider their feasibility, cost-implications, and potential environmental side-effects.

The integration of negative emission technologies in construction can significantly contribute towards achieving broader sustainability goals such as reduced greenhouse gas emissions and enhanced resource efficiency.

For instance, using building materials derived from captured CO2 or implementing on-site CCS systems during manufacturing processes can transform conventional building projects into active agents for climate change mitigation.

Furthermore, design strategies that prioritise long-term storage of atmospheric CO2 within building structures could fundamentally redefine sustainability benchmarks within this sector and set a precedent for large-scale adoption across different industries.

Explaining carbon capture and storage

Delving into the specifics of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) reveals a transformative technology that could substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the construction sector.

It employs a set of carbon sequestration methods that involve capturing waste CO2 from large point sources, such as cement factories or biomass power plants, transporting it to a storage site, and depositing it where it will not enter the atmosphere.

The captured CO2 can be injected into geological formations for long-term storage or utilised in various processes. CCS has been identified as having significant potential for reducing GHG emissions in industries with large concentrated sources of CO2, especially those related to construction materials production.

Technological advancements in carbon capture have made this process increasingly efficient and less energy-intensive. Innovations range from novel sorbents that enhance the efficiency of capture to advanced monitoring techniques ensuring safe and effective storage.

However, challenges remain in implementing carbon capture on a large scale. These include high costs associated with capture technologies, lack of clear regulatory frameworks governing liability for stored CO2, public acceptance issues related to possible leakage risks and the need for extensive infrastructure to transport and store captured CO2.

The environmental benefits of carbon capture are significant as it could play a critical role in mitigating climate change by curbing industrial CO2 emissions.

Moreover, there is considerable potential for carbon storage within the construction industry itself – through using building materials capable of storing carbon or designing buildings that are net sinks rather than sources of greenhouse gases.

This underexplored strategy could turn buildings into active components in our fight against climate change while also potentially creating new market opportunities within the green building sector.

What are the cost implications of carbon technologies?

Analysing the financial aspects of implementing carbon technologies uncovers significant cost implications that need to be carefully considered.

The economic impact varies depending on the type and scale of the technology used, with the potential for a direct effect on pricing factors within the construction sector.

For instance, Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), while being an actively discussed strategy in climate policy, presents a considerable financial challenge due to its intricate processes and large-scale infrastructure requirements.

  • The deployment of CCS in industry sectors like cement and steel production has been projected to cause price increases ranging from 20% to 80%, posing significant budget implications.
  • Direct Air Capture (DAC) technologies, although promising in their ability to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, are currently expensive and energy-intensive, hence requiring a comprehensive cost analysis before implementation.
  • Negative Emission Technologies (NETs) such as afforestation or biochar offer more natural means of carbon removal but still call for substantial financial considerations regarding land use changes, maintenance costs, and long-term monitoring.

While these challenges present hurdles towards achieving carbon neutrality in construction, they also open doors for innovation and optimisation.

Economically viable solutions can be sought through continuous research into more efficient technologies or via alternative routes such as emission trading mechanisms or compensation business models.

These approaches not only mitigate the harmful impacts on climate but could potentially generate economic benefits within evolving global markets dedicated to carbon reduction initiatives.

Thus, balancing between environmental responsibility and economic feasibility becomes key in exploring carbon storage solutions within the built environment.

Decarbonising the construction sector

Transitioning from the discussion of cost implications, it is crucial to shift focus toward the broader issue of decarbonising the construction sector.

Addressing the financial aspect of carbon technologies is just one piece of the puzzle; a more holistic approach that encompasses various strategies and methods must be adopted to achieve significant progress in this arena.

With increasing awareness about climate change, there is a pressing need for industries, especially high-emitting sectors such as construction, to adopt sustainable practices in order to mitigate their environmental impact.

Within this context, carbon storage methods offer promising potential for reducing construction emissions and contributing to global climate change mitigation efforts.

These techniques involve capturing and storing carbon dioxide, thus preventing its release into the atmosphere.

Carbon storage can take many forms within the built environment – from using materials with inherent capabilities for carbon sequestration, like timber and hempcrete, to integrating emerging negative emission technologies (NETs), which actively capture and store CO2 during building operations.

However, these strategies are not yet widely implemented in practice due largely to regulatory barriers, lack of understanding among industry professionals about their benefits and applications, as well as financial considerations.

Addressing these challenges requires effort by all stakeholders involved in sustainable construction

Policymakers should foster an enabling environment through conducive regulations; researchers should continue developing more efficient NETs; builders should be educated about existing carbon storage solutions; consumers should demand greener buildings.

As such measures gain traction, they will stimulate changes across design approaches, material selection processes and building operation protocols – paving way for truly sustainable constructions that significantly contribute towards climate change mitigation.

The potential of creating carbon storages

The potential for creating carbon repositories within the built environment offers a promising avenue towards mitigating climate change.

Carbon storage methods and sequestration techniques can be applied in various ways, contributing to the overall reduction of greenhouse gas emissions while also providing additional benefits such as improving energy efficiency and promoting sustainability within the construction industry.

For instance, certain building materials have been identified for their inherent carbon storage properties; these include timber, biochar-infused concrete, and certain types of insulation that are made from plant-based materials. When used effectively, these materials not only perform their primary functions but also serve as reservoirs for carbon dioxide.

The approaches to augmenting the carbon storage potential in construction

  • Implementing green roofs and facades: These installations do not only improve thermal insulation but also support photosynthesis which aids in carbon sequestration.
  • Using recycled or sustainably sourced materials: This reduces emissions associated with new material production while potentially storing carbon if biomass-based materials are used.
  • Incorporating carbon capture technologies into buildings: For instance, through air filtering systems or photobioreactors that use algae to absorb CO2.
  • Designing for deconstruction: By facilitating easier disassembly at end-of-life, materials can be reused more efficiently, thus optimising their lifetime carbon offset potential.

In addition to utilising building materials for carbon storage, there is an untapped opportunity to explore novel technologies for capturing CO2 directly from ambient air within urban environments.

Known as Direct Air Capture (DAC), this method has emerged as a viable option due its ability to reduce atmospheric concentrations of CO2 regardless of where emissions occur. Moreover, DAC plants could be integrated into urban infrastructure or even into individual buildings themselves.

Such a holistic approach would not only amplify the role of the built environment in achieving overall emission reductions goals but will also contribute significantly to global efforts aimed at reaching net-zero targets.


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