Harnessing the power of BIM for buildings as a circular product

Due to mass urbanization our cities are increasingly faced with mass consumption and the pressure to become more resourceful as the population is set to exceed 5.5 billion by 2050. The construction sector has been chastised by many thinktanks, research centres and NGO’s as the leading polluter and waste creator. The construction industry alone accounts for nearly 40% of carbon emissions and is heralded as the leading sector to mass produce waste through construction and demolition waste (CDW). For instance, in the UK nearly 49 million tonnes of CDW is produced due to end-of-life activities, namely through demolition (DEFRA, 2015). Subsequently, diverting 90% of UK’s CDW into landfills.

Simultaneously after a long history of under-digitization, the construction industry is making a shift towards digitization and automation due to rapidly growing information and communication technologies such as BIM, 3D printing, blockchain, robotics, machine learning, drones, big data, the Internet of Things (IoT), predictive analytics, augmented reality, and gaming engines, to name a few. Often referred as Construction 4.0, the construction industry’s surrogate of Industry 4.0. These changes into digitalisation have been propounded to transform the design, planning, construction, operation and maintenance of buildings and have a positive impact on the overall project time, cost, and resources. Yet there exists a paucity of digital transformation in construction to assist circular consumer knowledge.  This quintessential transformation from BIM data, into information and finally into circular consumption knowledge is presently missing in Construction 4.0. As pace of construction sector is set to grow by 85% globally, circular re-use business model will similarly need to be embedded into new buildings from the outset of the building design stages.

Against this backdrop the requirement for more circular design thinking and digitalisation through technologies such as BIM can pave the ways for incremental step changes to embrace end-of-life strategic design decision making (Akanbi et al., 2017). Such herculean efforts to make the design decision making more circular also requires close collaboration and coordination between originators of the design and construction material manufacturers.

At the heart of contemporary self-professed green buildings lies an emblematic problem – How can we eliminate waste from the design and propagate a more circular consumption at the end-of-life? Whilst, at the heart of circular economy lies the perennial question – How can we maximise our resources life span?

To address this growing problem an end-of-life strategy is commonly used in conjunction with construction disassembly or deconstruction, which is gaining in popularity viz-a-viz demolition. Underpinning such methods of construction disassembly is circular economy thinking (COM, 2014). Circular economy design thinking exceeds the confines of previous low-grade recycling of building materials at the end of its life.

Yet, limited exemplars of building components that re-use CDW holistically and support circular design thinking exist. In addition to such, few offer BIM content to inform the designers of its end-of-life strategy for disassembly. Subsequently the Green Instruct innovative insulated wall panel which is designed to comprise of over 70% of CDW will also consider an end-of-life strategy to combat the ill addressed problem of CDW and circular design thinking. Green Instruct panel has been designed with BIM and will also seek to address the problem of information transformation into end-of-life knowledge. Green Instruct project hopes to gather preliminary data about ease of disassembly of the GI Panel and embed such data into the BIM object of the GI panel. In an unprecedented manner, this BIM component of GI panel is hoped to embedded circular design thinking to better inform design decision making of architects and ease disassembly of the panel at the end of its useful life.

render image of a panel in a BIM project

Render of the Green Instruct panel in a BIM project

From an economic system standpoint, our traditional economic modus operandi of “take-make-dispose” will manifest a resource-scarce future for manufacturers. In this context, circular economy presents an alternative economy model that is regenerative by design (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2012).  Such has been the thinking behind the use of BIM for GI panel, to encourage designer awareness of the circularity of the specified building product. It is the ambition of Exergy to test the ease of disassembly and to digitise such valuable information into the design models via BIM. Subsequently, GI panel encourages manufactures to design longevity and performance into products for improved durability, efficiency and adaptability, decrease the use of raw material cost and increasing business supply chain.  If successfully implemented, circular economy proposes to augment the traditional modus operandi of the one-way consumption mindset and convert it into a servitization model instead, in a way that product ownership belongs to manufacturers that operate as a service provider rather than just consumer sellers.

Akanbi L. A., Oyedele L. O., Akinade O. O., Ajayi A. O., Delgado M., D., Bilal M., Bello S. A., (2017) Salvaging building materials in a circular economy: A BIM-based whole-life performance estimator,Resources, Conservation and Recycling, Vol. 129,pp. 175-186, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.resconrec.2017.10.026. 

DEFRA Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, UK Statistics on Waste (2015) Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/487916/UK_Statistics_on_Waste_statistical_notice_15_12_2015_update_f2.pdf

Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2012. Circular Economy. [Online]
Available at: www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org

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