Carbon Bank Buildings? How Engineered Timber Could Make Our Cities Absorb CO2

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According to a new study by researchers from Yale University and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, wood-based engineered materials could help slash the carbon emissions in the air. Rather than using carbon-intensive materials, engineered timber could be used to construct buildings that will act as a “carbon bank” to absorb tonnes of emissions in the atmosphere. In the midst of the escalating climate emergency, the researchers say that their findings should be considered among the much-needed mitigation measures that governments ought to put in place. 

The paper, which was published in the journal Nature Sustainability, finds that the use of wood-based materials in urban construction could be a vital tool to help lower our rising carbon emissions. More specifically, the researchers from Yale and Potsdam concluded that swapping out typically carbon-intensive materials such as concrete for engineered timber could help store anywhere from 10 to 68 million tonnes of carbon emissions from the atmosphere. 

Architect and an author of the study Alan Organschi from Yale University explains that cities could turn into a “carbon sink rather than a carbon source…storing the carbon that would otherwise be combusted for energy or aerobically digested on the forest floor and allowing the forest to ‘continue’ in this restorative, carbon-absorbing system.”

In other words, while it seems counterintuitive to use more wood, researchers say that using engineered would slash the emissions associated with conventional construction materials, and once completed, the buildings would act as a “carbon bank”. 

Given that around 100 cities in the world can account for 20% of the global carbon footprint, these findings present an effective solution to dramatically reduce the greenhouse gases produced in urban areas. Researchers are therefore calling for the carbon-absorption potential of wood-based buildings to be seriously considered as a part of urban planning for climate mitigation. 

Meanwhile in Asia, a number of scientists and engineers too are working on solutions to make buildings in urban areas “greener”. A team of civil engineering students from the University of the Philippines has recently developed a more sustainable version of concrete made from recycled fly ash and waste glass, and the locally abundant rock pozzolanic tuff

Elsewhere, researchers at Lancaster University in collaboration with Scottish company CelluComp has developed a vegetable-based concrete formula that uses particles extracted from carrots and beetroots, which not only reduces the carbon emissions associated with cement production, but increases the durability and strength of the concrete too.


Lead image courtesy of Bates Smart.


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