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Industrial hybrid construction - the solution to the climate issue?

Published 05/12/2016 by Tom Lindström

The climate issue will be the focus when R&D issues are prioritised within the newly-formed Bioeconomy division within RISE. 

The UN’s climate panel (IPCC) has not fully realised how large an effect the construction process (“Construction”) has on the climate, mainly due to how the different materials used for construction contribute to climate emissions. This is largely down to how the environmental impact of the various social sectors is presented. Metaphorically speaking, you can cut the “climate cake” in various ways.

I (Tom Lindström) and a number of other people associated with BiMaC/FPIRC (KTH) have been discussing hybrid construction as an interesting development area for the forestry industry for a number of years, not just because of the climate effects, but particularly because slow-growing forest raw material offer clear competitive benefits over rapid-growing raw materials within the wood composites/sawn wood products segment, and so offer interesting development opportunities for the industry.

“Hybrid materials” refers to wood cellulose-based materials (usually EWP, e.g. cross-laminated timber, glulam, etc.) together with, in particular, steel, cement and glass in order to maximise the overall resource efficiency. Hybridisation can occur on a number of structural levels, from nano, micro to macro scale.

The environmental effect of construction has recently been examined by IVA/Byggindustrin/Boverket. A report issued by IVA confirms that “Construction” generates as large a climate emission as “Living” (heating/air conditioning, etc.) The climate panel has confirmed that 33% of the planet’s climate emissions comes from “Living”. If that figure is valid on a global basis, then the construction segment would be responsible for the vast majority of society’s climate impact. The “Materials” sector dominates construction, with as much as 84% of the total emissions (Boverket). While there are very significant R&D efforts ongoing around the world to reduce emissions from “Living”, very little effort is being placed into reducing resource consumption and climate efficiency within the construction process itself. 

A major background work (survey), financed by Troedssonfonden, has recently been completed in the field of hybrid building materials by a working group whose members come from various backgrounds*. The research frontiers in Europe (Switzerland, Germany, Austria), the UK and Canada have been examined. The group can confirm that research into hybrid construction is pretty much only taking place in Central Europe. Industrial construction involving, for instance, prefabricated robot construction can be viewed as a requirement for this development. An example of unique research into robot/digital construction is Gramazio Kohler Research, ETH in Zürich. This research is what is now referred to as the 4th industrial revolution.

Industrial wood construction currently largely uses wood-based primary hybrids, such as various EWP composites. There is currently a lot of very interesting development here, involving industrial contractors, illustrated by Lindbäcks Bygg, Martinsson, Moelven and Derome, who have become pioneers in progressive industrial prefabrication in construction and also advanced integration with installation functions. Stora Enso has become the world’s largest manufacturer of cross-laminated timber and is now launching work in industrial construction systems, largely based on EWP components. 

The next step in moving forward with climate-efficient construction is hybrid construction. Within Swedish wood research very little work is being undertaken in either hybrid or robot construction, although both fields are familiar to construction experts.  

In summary, it is a challenge for RISE and Swedish wood research to now create the research clusters that can not only develop digitalised industrial hybrid constructions, but can also constitute the future industry that can truly contribute to significant positive climate effects and technically effective and profitable construction, and not least create opportunities for the Swedish forestry industry.

*Dr Andreas Falk, project manager, KTH-Building Materials, Nippe Hylander, IVA VIII, Professor Tom Lindström, RISE, IVA VIII with a reference group consisting of Professor Magnus Wålinder, Building Materials, Professor Charlotte Bengtsson, Skogforsk (Forestry Research Institute of Sweden) and Linnaeus University, Director Birgitta Sundblad, RISE (project mentor), CEO Eva Färnstrand project AB, IVA VIII, Tekn. Lic. Rutger Gyllenram, Chair of SIS TK 209 “Uthålligt byggande” (Sustainable Construction), Kobolde & Partners AB.