How Technology is Creating Sustainable Construction


Whether it's efforts made globally, by nation, association, company or even individual engineers and designers, there’s no doubt that the rise of eco-consumerism is increasing demands for sustainable construction.

In both the commercial and industrial sectors, builders are beginning to explore how to meet the needs of the green by investing in sustainable technology, such as renewable energy systems, green building materials, cool coatings and machinery that isn’t reliant on fossil fuels.

According to the 2021 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction published by the UN Environment Program’s Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction, the construction sector is responsible for 37% of carbon emissions.

“Since the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015, CO2 emissions from the buildings and construction sector have peaked in recent years, and subsequently fallen to 2007 levels in 2020. This current decline is mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, whereas transformative, long-term progress in sector decarbonizing remains limited,” the report stated.

While the COP26 Summit has defined steps the world can take to reduce greenhouse emissions and reaching net-zero goals, there have been various forms of technology emerging throughout the years that also look to reduce our carbon footprint, specifically in construction industry.

Solar Investments, Coatings

In looking to companies and cities, leaders in the industry and legislators have taken action to deploy solar roofs for its manufacturing facilities, commercial and residential spaces. As examples, in April, Wagner SprayTech announced the completion of what it calls Minnesota’s largest energy efficient rooftop and solar energy-generating facility.

Construction was completed last summer on the array system for the company’s North American Headquarters, in Plymouth, Minnesota, which houses the corporate operations and manufacturing for both Wager and Titan products.

In August, the California Energy Commission announced that it adopted the 2022 Building Energy Efficiency Standards for newly constructed and renovated buildings, which focuses on encouraging electric heat pump technology, establishing electric-ready requirements, strengthening ventilation and expanding solar photovoltaic systems.

The announcement was one of many similar initiatives made by other states and major cities in the United States.

That same month, the U.S. Department of Energy issued a report on the Biden administration's solar policies, finding that solar power could represent 40% of the nation’s electrical generation by 2035. Currently, large-scale solar decarbonization of the electricity sector accounts for 3%.

The report also noted that the solar power sector could sustain as many as 1.5 million jobs within the same timeline, however, both predictions require more investment if they are to be achieved.

Solar is already reported to be the fastest-growing source of new electricity generation in the nation, having grown from 2.5 gigawatts of solar capacity in 2010 to over 100 GW today. In an independent statistics and analysis report released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration in July, forecasted that large-scale U.S. solar capacity growth could exceed wind growth for the first time in its history.

The Short-Term Energy Outlook document, which was released on July 7, projects that solar photovoltaic generating energy will surpass wind generated energy sometime next year. According to the EIA, the solar capacity growth in the forecast reflects various state and federal policies that support renewable energy.

The DOE also notes, that thanks to its own investments in solar energy, solar costs have declined between 70% and 80% since 2010, making the cost for households and communities more affordable.

The following month, a team of international researchers from ITMO’s School of Physics and Engineering and Tor Vergata University of Rome reported that they’d found a new way to increase the efficiency of perovskite-based solar cells.

According to ITMO’s Department of Physics, the researchers developed a paste made from titanium dioxide (TiO2) and resonant silicon nanoparticles to serve as an additional layer in the process of producing solar cells.

The paste, which consists of Mie-resonant particles, reportedly made it possible to both control the amount of light absorbed and also increased the generation of photocurrent, allowing the team to bring the efficiency of solar cells up 21%.

According to the researchers, the developed paste is simple to apply and can be used with solar cells of any composition and configuration. In addition, there are no additional complications to the production process, while the cost of the resulting devices increases by only 0.3%.

Recycled Building Materials, 3D Printing

Another way the construction industry is working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is through the use of recycled building materials and 3D printing efforts.

Earlier this month, Canada’s Darwin Bridges won first place in the Infrastructure category of the American Concrete Institute’s Excellence in Concrete Construction Awards. The twin bridges previously won the 2021 Award of Excellence in the same category from the ACI’s Quebec and Eastern Ontario chapter, which nominated them for the International award.

The bridges are reportedly the world’s first bridges built from concrete made with 10% of recycled glass powder. According to the City of Montreal, the glass powder and concrete mixture increases the predicted lifespan of the bridges from 75 to 125 years, combined with its corrosion-resistant stainless-steel rebar.

In the spring, scientists from the Swinburne University of Technology and the Hebei University of Technology were reported to have successfully converted construction waste into an eco-friendly concrete 3D printing material.

For their research, scientists combined desert sand, ceramsite particles and recycled concrete aggregate to formulate a low-cost building material. Developed into three different particle gradings, the mixtures were designed with continuous, open and interrupted gradations of solids, respectively, based on the theory of particle interference, and aimed to meet the requirements of extrusion-based 3D printing.

Cool Coatings

In looking at the coatings industry specifically, efforts are also being made in terms of green technology for the commercial and industrial sectors. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, roofs with cool roof coatings can be as much as 100 F cooler than roofs covered with traditional, dark-colored roofing materials, demonstrating energy savings of as much as 10-70%

In April, engineers at Purdue University were reported to have created what they called “the whitest paint yet”—a cool coating that aims to reduce buildings’ needs for air conditioning.

“If you were to use this paint to cover a roof area of about 1,000 square feet, we estimate that you could get a cooling power of 10 kilowatts. That’s more powerful than the central air conditioners used by most houses,” said Xiulin Ruan, a Purdue professor of mechanical engineering, at the time.

The researchers have gone so far as to say that this white is closest thing available to an equivalent of “Vantablack,” which absorbs up to 99.9% of visible light. On the flip side, the new whitest paint reflects up to 98.1% of sunlight, compared to 95.5% in the researchers’ previously developed ultra-white paint. Typically, white coatings expect to reflect 80-90% of sunlight.

To test the cooling traits of the paint, researchers used thermocouples to demonstrate outdoors that the paint can keep surfaces 19 F cooler than the ambient surroundings at night, and 8 F below their surroundings during high noon. Reportedly, the paint even works in winter climates.

In a similar study, a team of current and former researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Concrete Sustainability Hub (MIT CSHub) looked at how surfaces that attribute to urban heat islands could have their intensities reduced in August.

Focusing on “cool pavements,” the researchers compared different pavement types for solar radiation reflectivity and heat emission. Traditionally, urban heat island effects are intensified when a densely built, impermeable surface like roadways absorb solar radiation and warm up their surroundings by re-emitting that radiation as heat.

Mostly occurring in cities, the phenomenon is reported to increase air temperatures by up as much as 7 F. While places like Missoula, Montana and Phoenix have already conducted sizeable experiments with cool pavements, the technology has yet to be widely implemented.

Through physical simulations to model buildings in thousands of hypothetical neighborhoods, the team trained a trained a neural network model to predict impacts based on building and neighborhood characteristics, looking at albedo effects, as well as the embodied impacts for all pavement types and the effect of pavement type on vehicle excess fuel consumption due to surface qualities, stiffness and deterioration rate.

After the lifecycle data was compiled, the team of researchers then calculated which material benefited each neighborhood most, finding that while cool pavements were advantageous in Boston and Phoenix overall, the ideal materials varied greatly within and between both cities.

It was only after researchers examined the embodied emissions and impacts on fuel consumption could they define an ideal pavement type for each neighborhood, ultimately determining that reflective concrete pavements had the best results, proving optimal in 53% and 73% of the neighborhoods in Boston and Phoenix, respectively.

Additional research conclusions in the study found that air temperatures in Boston and Phoenix could be lowered by up to 1.7 degrees Celsius (3 F) and 2.1 C (3.7 F), respectively. The change in pavement could also reduce greenhouse gas emissions, cutting total emissions by up to 3% in Boston over 50 years and 6% in Phoenix over the same time period, respectively.


Tagged categories: 3D printing; 3D Printing; Asia Pacific; Coatings Technology; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Environmental Controls; Good Technical Practice; Green building; Green chemistry; Green coatings; Green design; Green Infrastructure; Green roofs; Latin America; North America; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Recycled building materials; Solar; Solar energy; Technology; Z-Continents

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