Alternatives To Traditional Bulding Materials Construction Essay

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1.1 Climate Change

The effects of climate change are real. Since the industrial revolution, the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have increased by a third and are still rapidly increasing at an ever increasing rate. Over the 20th century, global temperatures have increased by 0.6°C, which is largely believed to be due to human activity and the 1990's were the warmest decade since records began (DTI, 2003). No one can predict the complete consequences of climate change and there is a great deal of uncertainty and conflicting opinions when it comes to theorising about what the future holds for us (Stern, 2006), but, from what we do know, it is a general notion that 'What we do in the next 10 or 20 years can have a profound effect on the climate in the second half of this century and in the next' (Stern, 2006, p.2).

Even though the burning of fossil fuels to generate energy for the country is a major contributor of CO2 into the atmosphere, the White Paper acknowledges the importance of fossil fuels in providing security for meeting the countries energy demands at present (DTI, 2003), so CO2 will inevitably be continually released into the atmosphere. There are means by which the already released CO2 can be captured, stored and removed from the atmosphere. This is known as carbon sequestration (POST, 2005). Even the simple action of growing a plant, means CO2 is being used for photosynthesis which in turn produces carbon based molecules which form the main bio-mass of the plant (Bevan & Woolley, 2008).

1.2 UK Construction Industry

The UK construction industry accounts for 47% of the total CO2 emissions nationally (DBIS, 2010) and focus has fallen on improving the energy efficiency of buildings to reduce CO2 emissions from energy generation and also reduce the embodied carbon of building materials going into buildings. At present in the UK, there are already an abundance of measures, such as the Approved Documents, to ensure buildings are as energy efficient as is practically possible. Many of the materials which are incorporated into buildings to achieve acceptable efficiency are often manufactured via inefficient means and by the time the material reaches the building it is already responsible for a relatively large carbon footprint. Table 1 shows the embodied carbon of the materials in a typical wall of a modern building.

Table 1: Comparison of CO2 approximate emissions from conventional construction methods.

Source: (Bevan & Woolley, 2008)

As seen in table 1, the embodied carbon to manufacture and transport 1 tonne of mineral wool results in 2606 kg of CO2 emissions, but installing mineral wool into a building as insulation is seen as a carbon friendly solution for the building, and the true carbon footprint of the materials is rarely known. There has been little to no evidence that suggests that consumers take into account the carbon footprint of a product when deciding on purchasing the product (Miranda, 2009). This indicates that the responsibility of the consumer to assess the carbon footprint is hard to implement behavioural change, meaning that greater responsibility falls on the mass production manufacturers. The construction industry is putting ever more focus into responsible sourcing of materials for construction and calls to 'recognise and encourage the specification of responsibly sourced materials for the basic building elements' (DCLG, p.116, 2009). Careful consideration into the embodied carbon of conventional building materials is being assessed by all major manufacturers in the industry as well as government sectors. The level and engagement by major manufacturers towards a low carbon future is not as flourished as one might expect though. A survey carried out McKinsley Quarterly Global 2008, looked into the attitudes of senior directors of major corporations towards their sustainability agenda. The results revealed that only 60% of company directors would say that sustainability is a key agenda item in their companies future strategy (Elmualin et. al, 2010). This figure is worrying and the authors which produced the article 'Barriers and commitments of facilities management profession to the sustainability agenda' (Elmualin et. al, 2010) also make the link that senior directors of the larger corporations have less involvement in the companies sustainability agenda whereas the directors of smaller companies have excellent awareness of a low carbon future but are held back by financial constraints.

In the last 20 years, there has been ever increasing research into the use of fast, annually growing renewable crops, such as hemp and flax, which can be used in the formation of composite materials for use in the construction industry. Natural fibrous materials are mainly being used in the manufacture of concrete, where the fibres are added to give strength to the concrete (Bevan & Woolley, 2008) and the other main exciting use is the formation of insulating filler boards. These new NFCM's could potentially offer the construction industry a sustainable solution to being as sustainable and low carbon as possible. The tests carried out on natural fibre composite materials over the last decade have revealed very promising results for NFCM's in terms of performance against traditional materials and their ability to be carbon neutral or even carbon negative by the time the product reaches the building site (Bevan & Woolley, 2008). So with these outstanding results and promises of sustainable solutions for the construction industry, why are NFCM's not being fully utilised in the construction industry?

1.3 Central Research Question

There is a definite requirement for the construction industry to reduce its impact on the environment in terms of carbon emissions and NFCM's can definitely provide the solution, but as of yet NFCM's are not gaining the widespread use in the industry to make any noticeable reduction in CO2 emissions. This study will examine the following question:

'Can natural fibre composite materials from renewable crops, such as hemp, become viable and sustainable alternatives to traditional building materials?'

1.4 Aim

The aim of this dissertation is to analyse the barriers which are faced by NFCM's in being successfully implemented into the construction industry. This study will also look at ways in which NFCM's can gain better recognition as a viable, sustainable construction material.

1.5 Objectives

Assess NFCM's in terms of environmental benefits.

Identify government drivers in regards to a low carbon future and assess how NFCM's can help bring about change in line with government targets.

Explore the barriers faced by NFCM's in successful implementation into the construction industry.

Apply the Environmental, Social and Economic sustainability factors to NFCM's and assess where the materials are failing.

Analyse whether these materials will ever be viable for extensive use in the construction industry.


This study will look into natural fibre composite materials (NFCM's) and analyse where these materials fit into the industry at present moment. This dissertation aims to research the opportunities and barriers faced in successful implementation of NFCM's into the construction industry, and will look at the views of those who would be most likely to use the products. This study will also draw upon the theory of sustainability in terms of social, economic and environmental factors.

2.2 Research Methods

Research methodology is defined as 'A systematic approach to problem solving and data collection to ensure that one has useful data, that the results can be understood by others, and that the procedures can be carried out by someone at a later date' (Adams & Schvaneveldt, 1991, Pg. 16). Research can be the application of scientific procedures which can aid efficient research and strategic approach.

The source of data to form the basis of the research can be categorised into two types; primary or secondary.

Primary sources is information gathered first hand by the researcher, this can be in the form of questionnaires compiled by the researcher, direct interviews and photographs taken by the researcher (Creswell, 2007). Primary data is excellent for providing a set of data for a topic which has no data to analyse but there are dangers and limitations of primary sources. It may sometimes prove hard actually getting engagement from the persons which information needs to be drawn from, and there are many variables to consider which need to be applied to each set of data, i.e. a person's views may differ depending on age, gender, location etc.

In terms of the research required for this study, primary data collection was ruled out as the type of primary source available to this study would involve questionnaires where it has been noted by Beisk (2002 p.5) that fixed choice questionnaires 'force the respondent to answer questions that he or she might be ignorant of, have a different understanding of based on personal perception, or which are influenced by exogenous factors such as education, culture, age, or societal status' bearing this in mind it was not deemed an essential need for questionnaires for this study.

Secondary sources are 'Pieces of writing about primary sources and about the creators of primary works' (Lester, 2005, p.79). This study will focus on collection and interpretation of secondary sources mainly in the form of journals, text books and government publications. When analysing secondary sources, it is important to assess the credibility of the source and reliability of the information presented

0.0 References

Adams. G., & Schvaneveldt. J., (1991) Understanding Research Methods 2nd Edition, New York: Longman Publishing.

Bevan. R., & Woolley. T., (2008) Hemp Lime Construction - A guide to building with hemp lime composites. Bracknell: IHS BRE Press

Beisk. B., (2002) Research Methods: Uses and limitations of questionnaires, interviews and case studies, Norderstedt: GRIN

Creswell. J., (2007), Qualitative Inquiry & Research Design, London: Sage Publishing

(DBIS) Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (2010), Estimating the amount of CO2 that the construction industry can influence, London: BIS

(DCLG) Department for Communities and Local Government (2009), Code for Sustainable Homes - Technical Guide, London: RIBA Publishing.

(DTI) Department of Trade and Industry (2003), Energy White Paper - Our energy future - creating a low carbon economy, Norwich: The Stationary Office.

Elmualim. A., et al (2010), Barriers and commitments of facilities management profession to the sustainability agenda, Building and Environment, Vol.45 (2010) p.58-64

(POST) Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (2005), Carbon Capture and Storage, London:POST

Lester. J.D., (2005), Research Paper Handbook. Third edition, USA: Good year books

Miranda. M., (2009) Reconciling the duplicity of consumer attitudes to carbon footprints, The International Review of Retail, Distribution and Consumer Research, Vol.19, No.1, February 2009, p.59-74

Stern, N., (2006), Stern Review: The economics of climate change, London: HM Treasury.