ECOLOGICAL, SUSTAINABLE, FUTURISTIC: THE CHANGING CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY

March 15th, 2021 Innovation Insights

In the construction industry, digitalization as a megatrend is leading to fascinating innovations. The latest technologies, tools, and building materials will be used to build faster, more resource-efficiently, and digitally in the future. The focus is likewise on the associated complex transformations and challenges of digital transformation. Here, the Swiss investment analytics firm ALPORA provides insight into the dynamic transformation of the construction industry.

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1. INNOVATIVE CONSTRUCTION TECHNOLOGIES OF THE FUTURE

DIGITAL BUILDING: A TREND THAT CAN NO LONGER BE IGNORED

The construction sector is facing enormous challenges in view of the rapidly increasing world population, labor shortages, and global megatrends. New construction technologies and materials are being researched and developed with incredible speed. This acceleration of technology is leading to a fundamental digital transformation in the construction industry.

Which factors are leading to a significant change in the traditional building and construction landscape?

Nowadays, customers are aware of fast-changing markets, resulting in rapidly changing customer expectations and constantly increasing customer demands that require companies to act quickly. However, not only customer behavior has changed, but advanced technologies are also significantly transforming the construction industry. Technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) can balance existing inefficiencies and low productivity rates. Decreasing costs for sensors, software, and hardware, and the associated efficiency gains, offer new and valuable opportunities for the building industry. Support for robotics, additive printing, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are also among today’s powerful technologies. Then there are the emerging startups that are using technology trends to develop helpful solutions and offer new potential market opportunities. Based on these factors, environmental impacts in the construction industry can be minimized with digitization. In addition, stricter legal regulations regarding CO2 emissions and energy efficiency can be met at the same time.

THESE TOP TRENDS ARE INFLUENCING AND SHAPING BUILDING TECHNOLOGY

BIM METHODOLOGY – THE MOST IMPORTANT CONSTRUCTION TREND TOPIC AT PRESENT

Building Information Modeling (BIM) is an intelligent process based on a 3D model that provides information and tools for the design, construction, coordination, and management of a building using software. This planning method allows architects, engineers, and general contractors to map the entire life cycle of a building with virtual and digital building information. Behind this holistic approach lies a significant success factor for sustainable construction projects. The implementation of BIM and its use has been growing in recent years and is gaining acceptance in Europe. Nevertheless, digital transformation remains a multidimensional challenge for many companies. In Germany for example, the institute of the Fraunhofer Building Innovation Alliance supports digital transformation and provides innovative solutions for the construction industry: in particular, to pave the way for small and medium-sized construction companies to go digital so that they also can benefit from the far-reaching advantages.

3D CONCRETE PRINTING BOD2 – NEWCOMER OF THE 2ND GENERATION

The company PERI uses their BOD2, the world’s only second-generation 3D concrete printer, primarily for residential construction and for printing the walls of a building. Already fully CE-certified, it is also ideally suited to produce specific precast concrete elements. With a high degree of planning reliability and printing speed, the coordination efforts and thus the project times of a construction are greatly reduced. In addition, a simple and quick integration of other building materials such as insulation material or cable ducts can be offered. It features tangential control, which makes it possible to print extremely smooth surfaces. Furthermore, normal concrete and mortar can be used up to a grain size of 8 mm, and therefore the use of special 3D printing material is no longer required. Another advantage of the BOD2 when compared to other 3D printers is the significant time savings, as the robotic arm printer has been replaced with a gantry system, eliminating the calibration process. Moreover, the BOD2 can be flexibly configured from 2.5 m modules in all 3 dimensions, meaning that the printer can also be easily expanded.

AEROGEL – THE ALL-ROUND MATERIAL IN FOCUS

The interdisciplinary research institute of the ETH (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich) Division of Materials Science and Technology Development (EMPA) developed the micro-construction material aerogel, which opens up numerous new applications in the high-tech industry. EMPA researchers have been able to successfully produce 3D-printed parts from silica aerogels and silica composite materials. Consisting of lightweight and porous foams, silica aerogel finds application in the fields of microelectronics, robotics, and sensor technology as an excellent thermal insulation material. The micro-building material of the future has improved mechanical properties, and can now be drilled as well as milled without breaking, and allows 3D-printed aerogel molded parts to be reworked. Similarly, the nanomaterial can withstand high-temperature fires and the new stable microstructure can be used to thermally isolate the smallest electronic components from each other. Demand for aerogel is increasing in the automotive, oil, and gas industries. According to Allied Market Research, the global aerogel market generated $701 million in 2019 and is expected to reach $1.39 billion by 2027.

SELF-HEALING CONCRETE – CRACK SEALING WITH THE HELP OF BACTERIA

Concrete is known as the most widely used mass building material of our time with far-reaching advantages. However, concrete has one serious shortcoming: It breaks easily under stress, causing cracks which can endanger the mechanical properties of the structure. Year after year, costs in the billions of Euros are incurred for maintenance measures due to cracks in the concrete. With the invention of a self-healing bio-concrete, Dutch scientist Hendrik Jonkers has succeeded in counteracting this problem. The inventor was inspired by living organisms that have self-healing powers. Crystalline systems and limestone-producing bacteria from bionic research will be used to seal cracks reliably and safely in the future. This will allow self-healing concrete to be used as preventive protection for fresh concrete or for crack repair.

MODERN BUILDING WITH SMART GRID AND SMART METER

Technologies today are capable of monitoring productivity and reliability with sensors and near field communication (NFC) devices. For example, IoT can allow machines and devices to communicate with a central data platform. Such technologies are also in demand in a “smart city“. It is well known that in a smart city, the quality of life of residents and the sustainability of the city are to be improved with technologies from the areas of communication, energy, mobility, urban planning, and administration. In the long term, synergies are to be created by networking infrastructure with digital technology, mobility, and energy. A wide variety of futuristic smart city concepts and urban projects are already being developed and implemented. Various futuristic concepts or urban city projects of the smart city are already being developed and realized.

A smart city also includes an intelligent power grid, the so-called “smart grid“. In this power grid, advanced communication technologies link energy generation and consumption. Both are now intelligently coordinated with each other. A smart grid is a device that can connect all devices within a building via a communication network. In this way energy flows can be ideally controlled. As a result, renewable energy can be more easily integrated into the power grid and the grid can be used to its full capacity. With the help of “smart meters“, real-time consumption data can be collected and transmitted to energy suppliers. In this manner, they contribute to energy efficiency and energy savings.

NEW WORLD OF WORK REQUIRES NEW BUILDINGS

In times of digitalization, the Covid-19 pandemic, and globalization, nine-to-five jobs are in steady decline and flexible work hour models are needed. This is where the New Work provides a remedy for freelancers, digital nomads, and creative minds. They share co-working spaces to take advantage of collaborating in an open office with flexible workstations or work from home. This also means that more and more flexibility is demanded of workers as well as their homes and buildings to reconfigure spaces or buildings as quickly as possible to meet changing needs. Necessity is the mother of invention, and new forms of work such as agile working, crowdworking, work-life blending, and knowledge workers are leading to a more independent way of working, more freedom, and a better work-life balance. Employers such as Microsoft and IBM in Austria or Google in Switzerland, as well as start-ups with a modern way of thinking and working – have long been practicing these new forms of work. With this concept from Frithjof Bergmann, companies need to be prepared to adapt in order to keep up with the market in the long term.

PERI GMBH

As one of the largest international manufacturers of formwork and scaffolding systems, PERI is convinced that the revolutionary technology of 3D concrete printing, which allows concrete to be formed without formwork, can significantly increase productivity. It can also be used in diverse segments, has fast as well as cost-effective production cycles and has monumental design freedom.

NORDIC WATERPROOFING HOLDING AB

The Swedish company Nordic Waterproofing is a European manufacturer and supplier of waterproofing products and services for buildings and infrastructure. The group operates in the Nordic countries and is involved in green infrastructure as well as energy and environmental optimization.

CHUDENKO CORPORATION

Chudenko is a Japanese building services company that creates high value-added living and business environments to contribute to the development and growth of society. With electric power and activities in electrical, air-conditioning duct and information communication installation, the company contributes to the stable supply of the Chugoku region of Japan.

2. THE RESEARCH FIELD OF ENERGY-SAVING BUILDINGS

Energy-saving construction is increasingly meeting with a positive response because it means saving energy and using it optimally – in other words, increasing energy efficiency. In the long run it saves money, protects the environment, and prevents the formation of dangerous thermal bridges. Also, comfort no longer has to be sacrificed. Decisive for construction planning is the choice of the appropriate building form and construction method, including considerations of building physics, insulation material, and heat generation. In order to create the most energy-efficient building possible, one should also consider masonry, pumps, ventilation systems including renewable energies for the exploitation of passive solar gain.

BASIC REQUIREMENT: GOOD INSULATION OF THE BUILDING ENVELOPE

If the building envelope is not airtight due to leakage, this can lead to a wide variety of structural damage and very high costs. Energy and heat losses should therefore be avoided as far as possible. The aim of airtight construction is to prevent cold outside air from entering buildings in an uncontrolled manner, warm indoor air from escaping unintentionally, and warm, moist indoor air from penetrating insulated building components. Basically, it can be said that transmission heat losses depend on the quality of the thermal insulation.

THE SHAPE OF THE BUILDING IS NOT NEGLIGIBLE

The choice of building shape is also crucial and should be considered during construction planning. Compact building shapes that minimize the external surface area of the building are advantageous.

SAVING ENERGY WITH A MONOLITHIC CONSTRUCTION METHOD

The monolithic construction method is also called solid construction or single-shell construction. Here, the individual walls consist solely of one building material and only need to be supplemented by an exterior or interior plaster layer. Since there is no mixing of several building materials, this homogeneity leads to apparent energy efficiency while maintaining a goal-oriented concept and a uniform style.

In conclusion, it remains to be said that the construction industry must pay greater attention to ecological influencing factors if it is to operate profitably in the long term. Energy-saving houses or Minergie houses (Swiss building standard with low energy requirements) can be used to promote energy-efficient and ecological construction methods and exploit the potential for energy savings.

HOLCIM (SCHWEIZ) AG

LafargeHolcim Ltd., headquartered in Switzerland, is one of the world’s largest producers of building materials and develops sustainable construction solutions in its six research and innovation centers. The subsidiary Holcim (Schweiz) AG is intensively involved in ecological, sustainable, and intelligent construction methods.

LEGRAND SA

Legrand is a global French company focused on the optimization of electrical and digital building infrastructures. The group also provides solutions for ecological construction methods such as Green and Clean Building.

3. NOVEL RECYCLING TECHNOLOGIES IN THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY

With the latest recycling technologies, the construction industry can make a significant contribution to a lower environmental impact and the use of raw materials can be optimized. The aim is to sustainably reduce global consumption and extraction of resources in this sector because energy-efficient and low-emission solutions for building use alone are not enough to effectively protect the climate. Also, resource-conserving construction methods and the use of sustainable building materials and structures are required. Product development of the required materials, especially for composites, must take into account the complete life cycle up to disposal and recycling.

The so-called cradle-to-cradle approach was developed by the German chemist Michael Braungart and the American architect William McDonough. It stands for a continuous and consistent circular economy. Biological cycles do not leave any waste behind and so this system is based on nature’s cycle. By processing waste materials, higher quality products (upcycling), but also lower quality products (downcycling) can be produced and used in a variety of ways.

In summary, innovative, and sustainable solutions for recycling construction waste and material residues are needed for an intelligent circular economy. This surplus construction waste has enormous potential for high-quality raw materials and materials that can be recovered inexpensively and refined and reprocessed without any loss of quality.

Newtecpoly Pty Ltd.

Newtecpoly is an Australian start-up company that developed a plastic recycling technology called PolyWaste Technology. With the help of this innovative technology, a variety of diverse plastics from industrial, commercial, agricultural, or household waste can be recycled and turned into valuable materials that would otherwise have ended up in already overcrowded landfills.

Novoloop

The California-based company develops novel recycling technologies using chemical processes to engage with sustainable materials for the planet. Its low-carbon Accelerated Thermal Oxidative Decomposition (ATOD™) manufacturing process transforms packaging waste into high-performance virgin material for use in cars, homes, and shoes among other applications.

4. NEW SYNTHETIC BUILDING MATERIALS & BUILDING CONSTRUCTIONS

In order to meet the complex ecological and economic requirements of the 21st century, the construction industry needs not only high-tech building materials but also future-oriented building materials and building construction such as innovative facade materials. The raw material petroleum is known as an energy source for heating and as a fuel for vehicles. Apart from that, this valuable raw material has many uses and serves as the basic material for most plastics. We encounter petroleum in almost every area of daily life, be it packaging materials, clothing, tablets, computers, or vegetables. If we turn our attention to petroleum-based products in the construction industry, we find that oil is used here in its most economical form and particularly frequently in the construction of heat insulation systems.

NEW BUILDING MATERIALS ARE CHANGING THE WORLD OF CONSTRUCTION

In general, synthetic insulation materials are particularly durable, inexpensive, robust, flexible to process, and stable to moisture and pressure. The low weight facilitates the transport and installation of rigid foam boards made of synthetic insulation materials. These materials are particularly resistant to weathering and prevent the risk of moisture, mold, or other pests. Based on their physical properties, plastics are divided into three major groups: Thermoplastics, thermosets, and elastomers. Plastics such as polystyrene (thermoplastics) and polyurethane (thermosets) are used as insulating materials through further processing into a rigid foam. The most widely used synthetic insulating material is expanded polystyrene rigid foam (EPS), commonly known as Styrofoam. The insulating effect is also created here, as with all insulating materials, by trapped air.

Even if synthetic building materials based on petroleum have a bad reputation, the modern board-shaped EPS insulating materials were surprisingly able to perform best according to a study by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research Heidelberg and the Natureplus association. This positive life cycle assessment shows the future potential of the material and was drawn up under the aspects and the assumption that the latest EPS boards are free of the environmentally harmful flame retardant HBCD and that material recycling takes place after the insulating materials’ end of life.

CARBON CONCRETE AS THE CONSTRUCTION MATERIAL OF THE FUTURE

Synthetic concrete, also called fiber or textile concrete, offers many advantages. For example, it is durable, water repellent, resistant to atmospheric conditions and acid, and has an unaltered shape. New types of concrete composites are said to be more stable, resistant, resource-saving, and as versatile as possible. For example, compared to reinforced concrete, carbon concrete is rust-free, more resistant, and can be obtained from rocks, plants, and air. A reduction of almost 50% in energy requirements and CO2 emissions is achieved in the production and repair of carbon concrete. The material has high flexibility to design building geometries, has significantly higher tensile strength than steel, and furthermore, the pure carbon fibers are more temperature resistant than conventional textile fibers. According to current research, the components carbon and concrete can be separated with a degree of purity of 98 percent and can therefore be easily recycled.

BASF SE

With its Neopor® facade insulation boards enriched with graphite particles, the global chemical company BASF is introducing new synthetic high-performance insulation materials to the market. These are not only more efficient than the conventional white EPS but also offer improved product properties and are free of HBCD.

SCHWENK Zement GmbH & Co. KG

SCHWENK Zement is a cement manufacturer based in southern Germany that strives to continuously develop new building structures such as cement, concrete, and special building materials. Its product innovations currently include novel insulating and lightweight concretes as well as cements, acid-resistant concretes, alternative methods for recycling old concrete, and 3D printing.

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