The construction industry produces nearly one-fourth of global CO2 emissions, not to mention its heavy footprint in NO2 and PM pollution. Crazy, huh? In order to slow down climate change, the development towards decreased environmental impact has to happen in every field – and the development of the construction industry can have a great impact on the overall picture. The ideology of zero-emission construction has recently been raised to the headlines, but what is the meaning behind this term? And is there a possibility to achieve the state of zero-emission construction?
The environmental and health pollution of the construction industry
The global construction industry produces an astonishing amount, 23%, of the world’s total CO2 emissions. Roughly 5% of these emissions are related directly to activities on the construction sites, as powering tools with generators. [Bellona, 2019]
Emissions and air pollution have an extensive negative impact on our environment, and as we all know, we should decrease emissions in each sector not only to reach global climate goals but in order to leave a healthy planet for future generations. In addition to negative environmental impact, air pollution from construction has a direct effect on construction workers’ health, and the health of citizens near construction sites. As an example, the UK’s Health and Safety Executive has found that over 200 construction workers die yearly prematurely from diseases caused by exposure to diesel fumes [Bellona, 2019]. There is no safe amount of air pollution, which means that the less air pollution we can have, the safer it will be for construction workers, and citizens exposed to construction sites.
And it’s not only the air pollution that is making construction workers days harder – construction sites produce extensive amounts of noise pollution, and the workers are the ones suffering from it 8 hours a day. In addition to worker’s health, noise pollution is a problem for the entire city atmosphere: I doubt that anyone of us has particularly enjoyed listening to a construction site drilling machine while spending a summer day in the city.
Where is the pollution coming from – the 3 most polluting construction site elements
Now that we’ve had a look at the negative impacts of the construction industry – let’s dig deeper on what are the elements that are the most polluting ones.
Transport and production of construction materials are one of the most polluting elements in the construction business. 60% of all emissions in construction are emitted in this phase [C40 Cities, 2019]. Although, even if construction materials have an extremely heavy footprint, they are not the only CO2-heavy element at the construction sites.
Construction sites rarely have electric grids, which requires tools and machinery to be almost exceptionally powered by generators. These generators produce, not only big amounts of CO2 emissions but also unnecessary noise pollution in addition to already loud construction machinery.
As this would not be enough for all emission and noise pollution, site transport is yet another polluting factor at the sites. Transport of construction workers, as well as construction materials, is nearly entirely performed with diesel-powered cars and other vehicles.
Solution: zero-emission construction?
Let’s look at the bright side, there are solutions already in the market to help decrease these polluting factors and an overall market movement towards zero-emission construction. How will zero-emission construction movement benefit the industry and what kind of changes can we assume to happen?
1. A decrease in construction emissions and pollutionIt’s time for every industry to do their part in reaching our global climate goals. Zero-emission construction aims to do explicitly what it says – to create zero amount of emissions. Let’s take an example of decreasing the CO2 emissions when powering construction tools; replacing generators as a power source for construction tools with instagrid battery system, the lifetime CO2 emissions can drop as much as 80%.
2. Improved quality of life in citiesMore and more people are living in big cities – and, most of the construction takes place in these major city hubs. Increasing air pollution doesn’t only make city-living more uncomfortable but can have long- and short-term health effects. Zero-emission construction can improve air quality and decrease noise pollution for everyone near construction sites.
3. A safe and pleasant work environment for construction workersA safe and enjoyable work environment is every worker’s basic right – but in addition to that, building better work environments for construction workers will benefit, in addition to workers, their employees, and families. Workers enjoy healthier lives longer and can stay in the job market for longer. Zero-emission construction aims to build work environments with cleaner air to breathe and less noise pollution, preventing unnecessary diseases and hearing problems among workers.
4. Significant decrease in operating costsFrom a business perspective, increased use of battery systems when powering construction sites leads to transforming the main energy source from diesel to electricity from the grid. The most significant cost decreases come from direct fuel costs and maintenance costs. Electricity as a fuel is significantly more cost-efficient than diesel, which leads to exponential cost decreases across the life-time use. In addition, maintenance costs of generators disappear. Life-time cost savings can drop tremendously when switching from generator to portable battery system.
So how do we build a zero-emission construction site?
We can all agree now, zero-emission construction sites are the needed way forward to build safer and cleaner cities. But where should we start, and with what should we replace the most polluting elements to cut back on air pollution, and minimize noise pollution? Let us give you a hint, electrification is one of the biggest solutions.
1. Electrified construction site toolsInstead of powering construction site tools with diesel, companies are searching for potential options in the field of portable battery systems. Many smaller tools (e.g. drill drivers) are already powered by small battery solutions, whereas bigger applications still need generators to have the needed high power. One of the most crucial problems, that has been prohibiting the powering of the bigger construction site tools with batteries is the development of a portable battery solution with the needed high power. Instagrid battery has the amount of energy to power any typical construction site tool for a whole day or more, while still having the ability to easily move the battery around the construction site.
2. Electrified construction site transportLike most of the construction tools, construction site vehicles are powered by diesel. Transporting people to and from the sites, transporting them inside large sites and of course transporting construction materials at the sites, quickly all add up to large amounts of CO2 emissions. Electrification not only for cars but also for larger transport vehicles should be researched and implemented to build a zero-emission construction site.
3. Minimized emissions of construction site materialsReaching zero emissions when it comes to construction materials is a challenge, but there are many ways to decrease those emissions. Reusing building materials, replacing carbon-intensive materials like concrete with lower-carbon alternatives, and increasing the use of sustainable timber as a construction material, could all together reduce GHG emissions by 15% by 2050 [C40 Cities, 2019].
4. Focus on the energy sources in each elementBatteries can tremendously decrease the emissions in powering of tools and vehicles, but the used energy source plays a major role in the overall emission footprint. Powering the portable power systems with renewable energy sources, instead of powering them with coal, can have up to 40% decrease in the footprint [Notter, 2010].
We at instagrid are a part of an EU Life-project “Cleaner air in the cities”, which aims to reduce construction emissions in European cities. This blog was our first part in the series of looking deeper into the zero-emission construction – stay tuned for our next part on the leading European cities in zero-emission construction sites.
Did you find this blogpost helpful? Share on: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter