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Engineering Firm Releases Carbon Data, Tool

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

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International engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti recently released results for a multi-year carbon measurement study that identified the type of structure and components in construction with the highest carbon emissions. The company followed up by releasing the very measuring tool—dubbed “Beacon”—it developed into the open market.

“Structural engineers have the opportunity to be leaders in sustainable design because structural materials are the largest contributors to embodied carbon in new construction. Our seven-year study of more than 600 structures using a tool developed in-house to measure embodied carbon is helping us understand the impact design and material choices have on the environment,” said Amy Seif Hattan, Corporate Responsibility Officer at Thornton Tomasetti.

cgtoolbox / Getty Images

International engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti recently released results for a multi-year carbon measurement study that identified the type of structure and components in construction with the highest carbon emissions. The company followed up by releasing the very measuring tool—dubbed “Beacon”—it developed into the open market.

“We are sharing the first results of our ongoing study in the hope that it will serve to educate our peers and encourage them to contribute data so we can expand our research and support the development of more sustainable and better performing structures.”

The Study

The study split structure into commercial, education and residential buildings and found that flooring was the highest material to embody carbon followed by walls, structural foundations, structural framing and, finally, structural columns.

Other findings, according to the company press release, include:

  • The largest driver of embodied carbon reduction in structures in the last seven years has been a market-driven trend toward the increased use of recycled steel and supplementary cementitious materials such as fly ash;
  • LEED-certified buildings show slightly lower embodied carbon levels than non-LEED buildings;
  • Concrete structures show less embodied carbon levels than steel buildings;
  • Most building types have the highest proportion of embodied carbon in its slabs. Alternative, low carbon slabs such as hollow core, voided slabs or timber floors can be considered to reduce embodied carbon;
  • In aviation and mission critical structures, the foundations hold the greatest embodied carbon, while in sports structures, the most embodied carbon is in the structural framing;
  • Mission critical structures such as hospitals and data centers have the overall highest levels of embodied carbon of any asset category; and
  • Skyscrapers show the highest proportion of embodied carbon in its columns rather than foundations.

“Thornton Tomasetti was an early leader in efforts to engineer low embodied carbon structures as the first structural engineering firm to join the American Institute of Architects 2030 Commitment toward developing carbon neutral buildings in 2011,” said Hattan.

Thornton Tomasetti

“As a co-founder of the Structural Engineers 2050 Challenge and an active participant in the Carbon Leadership Forum, we are dedicated to growing the body of knowledge and data on embodied carbon in new construction and setting reduction goals that will support the move toward zero carbon buildings.”

The Tool

Shortly following the release of the study information, the firm announced that it decided to release Beacon as an open-source tool for structural engineers everywhere.

“The tool is a sophisticated Autodesk Revit plugin that generates a comprehensive data visualization of a project’s embodied carbon,” the firm said.

“Beacon provides data in a manner similar to the engineer’s thought process, providing a clear visualization of a project’s embodied carbon quantities by material type, building element and floor levels, allowing engineers to know exactly where embodied carbon can be minimized for optimization. It also grades the model’s embodied carbon levels against the Carbon Leadership Forum’s database of models by building type using a red, yellow, and green rating system.”

   

Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; Carbon footprint; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Good Technical Practice; Green building; Latin America; North America; Sustainability; Z-Continents

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