Engineering Our Way Into a Better Future: How Structural Engineers Can Help
Sustainability, zero-waste, and zero-waste movement are the buzzwords we can hear everywhere these days — and with a good reason. Climate change, which has resulted in dramatic weather changes throughout the world, is a major source of concern for everyone. Countries and industries are banding together to battle climate change and pollution in order to ensure a better and safer future.
Excessive waste is a severe issue in many industries, but it is particularly problematic in construction. It appears that no matter how much effort is made to eliminate waste, the problem persists. That's why structural engineers are working hard to achieve a zero-waste future, and with continued effort, they might succeed. From the bulk materials handling and the utilized components to the design process, structural engineers will play a significant role in waste reduction.
How Structural Engineers Can Help Build a Sustainable Future
Since the amount of waste is a huge problem in construction, there's an urgent need to reconsider component and system manufacturing. For this reason, structural engineers must establish habits and techniques that will change the industry and positively impact the future. For that to happen, we need competent, talented, and inventive engineers to conduct research. They can innovate, design, and develop technology that will assist us in building a more sustainable world.
Furthermore, structure engineers must also address building maintenance and asset management, which are currently insufficient. They rely on limited data to oversee the structure's state. That implies that when a structure is nearing the end of its life — which is a crucial stage — it is difficult to implement selective demolition. Selective demolition is important because it helps reduce waste and retain parts of a structure.
Some companies try to resolve the issue with demolition contracts that create an efficient flow of construction waste. However, this generally refers only to the traditional building materials, like metals and concrete. The problem gets more complicated when we include composite materials as well as intricate architectural components and systems. So, we need more laws and procedures that help recover more demolition waste.
Disassembly Instead of Demolition
An ideal construction plan chooses the design and materials carefully so that each material can be easily separated and detached from the others. Furthermore, a concept of "selective disassembly" could make it possible for components that were still in good condition to be utilized in other projects and building operations. That is actually a common practice in other sectors, like the automobile industry.
However, in construction, recycling is pretty limited. For instance, copper, steel, and aluminum are reused in secondary manufacturing streams. Concrete is also crushed and reused for later blends, but other materials are more-less demolished. So, detachable components are still not a part of common construction practice, but we can definitely see them becoming in the future.
Design for the Future
Structural engineers can require the design teams to consider the future of the structure during the design process. That means they could plan for the potential expansions, repurposing, and other functional implementations. With such smart planning, we could lower the need to demolish materials in order to repurpose or expand buildings and structures.
Different sectors can share waste as a resource. For instance, organic waste from cities and the countryside is currently managed through incineration and landfills. However, we could use it to create architecture and building engineering products. Later, at the end of their service life, we can return them to the natural cycle.
Bio-composite materials consist of a combination of natural fibers and biopolymers. Some of their best qualities, considering their polymer composition and casing, are biodegradability and composability. Such materials are made from natural sources, like soy, jute, flax, and hemp, which grow in abundance. That gives them the potential to be limitless, clean, and regenerable.
These ideas will become more valuable when investors realize that waste is, in fact, a valuable resource. The first step towards such a future is collaborating with governments and redefining construction norms and laws, allowing for industrial-scale waste repurposing. The second step is investing in developing bio-based materials and demonstrating their relevance in terms of performance, such as durability and fire performance. Improved knowledge will enable us to benefit from the enormous untapped potential of organic materials in building for specific purposes.
Using the Latest Technology
Structural engineers emphasize the use of cutting-edge technologies. With their help, engineers can use fewer resources while maintaining high performance levels. Unfortunately, although many new technologies are built particularly for this reason, they are not always used as intended. Maybe now it's time to change that.
Using components that are entirely reusable is quite possible. That being said, we have to modify various factors to make the circular building less risky and more appealing to investors. So, we will need a change in regulations on the governance level. Also, we will have to invest in a big education campaign that will make investors aware of the advantages of the circular building.
The zero-waste movement has gone a long way in an attempt to reduce waste, but there's still a long way to go to completely eliminate it. That's why structural engineers are doing their part to push the construction industry into the zero-waste future. But they can't do it alone. The more everyone involved in the building process supports waste-reduction efforts, the more likely it will become a reality.