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Research roundup: Could green building materials offer greater stability, building efficiency?

Research roundup: Could green building materials offer greater stability, building efficiency?

Research roundup: Could green building materials offer greater stability, building efficiency?

What does it take to make a building not only resilient, but efficient in terms of its design and environmental impact? Independent contractors who are accustomed to working on a variety of jobs in the commercial and residential sectors understand how essential it is to have the right fasteners, power tools and construction equipment on hand to make sure a job is done correctly, but when it comes to building stronger and greener structures, there are often other elements at play.

An estimated 40 to 50 percent of all greenhouse gases can be traced back to the construction industry. At the University of Miami and the University of Milwaukee School of Engineering, researchers are exploring new ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by looking for sustainable new materials and design aesthetics.

"Thoughtful selection, by the architectural engineer, in the initial stages of the design process, can reduce environmental impact related to the construction process," said Matthew Trussoni, assistant professor in practice, at the UM College of Engineering and corresponding author of the study.

To assess the environmental impact of a structure, researchers utilized the life-cycle-assessment, which can offer an estimate of the damage – or lack thereof – during the material extraction, manufacturing, construction, use, maintenance and end-of-life phases of any building examined.

Trussoni and the research team compared two essential structural systems – the steel cable system and the steel truss system – in an effort to determine which was less harmful to the environment. As a result of LCA, they determined that the cable system, which holds 29 percent less mass than the truss and uses more than 65 percent less energy, was ultimately more environmentally friendly than the truss, which emits more than 67 percent more carbon dioxide than the cable system.

Greater stability from lightweight materials
During the design process, architectural engineers may be able to make specific adjustments to a structure that enhance its eco-friendliness. While contractors may not be greatly involved in the drafting and design process, there are still other ways that they may able to make a building greener – specifically by using lightweight construction materials.

Using 3D laser lithography, researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology were able to develop unique, microstructured and lightweight construction materials. Their designs, which were inspired by the shell and bones structure of honeycombs, boast greater stability – relative to their weight – than some steel or aluminum offerings.

While nuts, galvanized bolts, washers and other high-quality fasteners are an irreplaceable part of ensuring the integrity of any structure, contractors eager to make a building more eco-friendly may want to consider the benefits of also using lightweight construction materials.