Lately I have been working on a variety of projects (both related to research and teaching). It’s been a busy month, but a productive one in terms of getting analyses done, and results written. I hope to give a brief overview of all of these projects in this post and where I am at with them. More to come on the details of each of these projects in future posts. I have categorized them by the question we are asking below.
Is building both denser and taller better from a whole life carbon perspective?
Urbanization has skyrocketed in recent decades, and is expected to continue going forward. When thinking about this massive demand for new buildings, the question arises about what is the best way to go about building them in light of global warming and the climate crisis at hand. We think of dense urban environments to be efficient, they reduce the transportation distances required (most of the time), typically use less space, and use less energy because of buildings have less surface area exposed to the environment.
Yet, it has not been quantified how dense and tall environments perform from a whole-life carbon (WLC) perspective (i.e., considering the emissions from material manufacturing, transportation, operation, and end-of-life). In this project, I am working with fellow PhD students at Napier to answer this question using simulated urban environment and life cycle assessment methodologies.
How many buildings are there in the US, and what are they made out of?
To understand how the built environment will evolve in the future, we must first understand how many buildings there are and what they are made out of. By answering this question, we will be able to quantify the future demand for materials (and their associated emissions) in addition to understanding where materials might be available for re-use (and start thinking about buildings as material banks). This sub-project is one within the larger project I am working on for my dissertation in which I am looking at the potential for buildings to be carbon sinks and store carbon within their material systems. To answer the aforementioned question, I am using a bottom-up approach, connecting GIS datasets of building footprints to building use type, size, and material quantities.
How can the structural engineering community get to zero embodied carbon?
As part of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Structural Engineering Institute’s (SEI) Sustainability Committee, I have been working on a white paper that explores the pathways in which the American structural engineering community can work towards achieving zero emissions from structural systems by 2050. This paper supports the SE 2050 Commitment which will be launched shortly as a call for structural engineers to achieve zero emissions by 2050.
To what extent can alternative cements be a climate solution?
As a research fellow with Project Drawdown, I am working to model how alternative cements can replace, traditional ordinary portland cement (OPC), since OPC is responsible for 7% of global carbon dioxide emissions. Within this model, I am quantifying the future demand for cement and synthesizing other research on ways to reduce the carbon intensity of cement manufacturing, in addition to alternative binding systems and how they can be incorporated into the built environment. This is the current project which I’m working on for Project Drawdown, previously having modeled Insulation and Dynamic Glass.
These are a few of the primary projects that I currently have going on, more to come on each of them as they get developed further.
Bridge design and construction courses
With Engineers in Action, I have finished the first stage of development of an online course which teaches the fundamentals of suspended bridge design. So far, 60 students from around the US, UK, and Canada have nearly completed it as they prepare for their upcoming bridge builds in the summer of 2020. To compliment the design course, I have started to develop the construction course which will guide students through the construction techniques and process.
I have been invited to teach a two-week course on Building Technology to first-year students at Shanghai Normal University (SNU) in July 2020 as part of a partnership between Napier University and SNU. I have started to develop the curriculum for the course, and I’m excited about the opportunity to teach internationally.