MIT Studies Environmental Costs of Common Building Materialsal

Cambridge, Mass.--MIT research findings will quantify the long-term environmental costs of paving and building materials and set a new standard in life-cycle-assessment modeling for such materials.

By Dees Stribling, Contributing Editor

Cambridge, Mass.–The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has released preliminary research findings that will quantify the long-term environmental costs of paving and building materials and, according to university researchers, set a new standard in life-cycle assessment (LCA) modeling for such materials. The studies are part of ongoing research at the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub.

“Our life-cycle analysis of buildings helps to benchmark the energy consumption and environmental performance of a range of building types,” MIT professor and research team leader John Ochsendorf tells MHN. “The goal is to better quantify building performance and to identify areas for potential improvements in design and operation.”

Knowing the way buildings behave in terms of energy consumption and environmental performance will have some distinct advantages for multifamily property owners and operators, Ochsendorf adds. “As building tenants become more energy savvy and more cognizant of their own carbon footprints, they’re seeking more rigorous methods of quantifying the environmental buildings,” he says. “Developers and owners can add value to the design and operation of buildings through a better understanding of life-cycle environmental and economic performance.”

The scope and detail of MIT’s LCA model will set the current efforts apart from previous work, Ochsendorf says. The expanded life-cycle window–-50 years for paving materials and 75 years for building materials–-combined with the level of detailed analysis conducted on their “use phase” (ordinary occupancy or use across the years) will distinguish the research. MIT researchers have found that more than 90 percent of residential building life-cycle carbon emissions and up to 85 percent of highway pavement emissions occur during this period.

“The life-cycle model we’re developing will combine the best data on the full range of costs–-construction, maintenance, reconstruction, user, direct and indirect–-with a timeframe that reflects the real-world life of pavements and building materials,” says Ochsendorf.

Julie Garbini, executive director of Ready Mixed Concrete Research & Education Foundation, agrees with that assessment, and adds a word or two about concrete construction. “The work coming out of the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub will be of key interest to property developers and owners,” she tells MHN. “MIT’s research shows that concrete construction offers significant energy savings and lower carbon emissions over the life cycle of structures.”

MIT’s work on measuring the life-cycle carbon emissions is scheduled to be completed by the summer of 2011. These environmental findings will then be supplemented by economic analyses to provide the most accurate assessment of the economic and environmental impacts for buildings and pavements yet produced, says Ochsendorf.

The economic study will produce an equally comprehensive life-cycle cost-analysis model, Ochsendorf explains. Once both studies are completed, MIT will have “provided the scientific community, industry leaders and policymakers with a framework to determine the economic and environmental life-cycle costs of selected infrastructure materials throughout the real life of projects,” he says.

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