Improving Sustainability In Construction By Analyzing Whole Life Cycle Energy

Buildings concentrate 40% of total energy used in Europe, so the improvement of the sustainability of constructions through a more efficient and use of buildings should be a great priority. In this regard, the wording of the Directive 2002/91/EC, related to European Energy Performance of Buildings promoted energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy in buildings.

In this respect, the Directive introduces the concept of nearly zero-energy buildings (NZEB), which are focused on minimizing the energy during the use of buildings by intensively using insulation materials and more advanced equipment.

NZEB requirements will have to be present in all new buildings beginning in 2021, and also all countries of the EU have to energetically renew 3% of public administration buildings on an annual basis. These renovations will suppose as a key to meeting the EU’s objectives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy demand by 20%.

Currently, conventional passive interventions in buildings are focused on increasing the insulation of the building envelope to increase its energy efficiency during the use of buildings. But it doesn’t consider the environmental implications of obtaining or manufacturing the selected building materials that incorporate embodied energy to the building. For that, it is necessary to analyze the whole life cycle energy to identify the adequacy of each renovation proposal regarding the post-renovation energy performance of the building.

This study proposes an integrated methodology that assesses the embodied energy of the renovation of buildings using LCA (Life Cycle Analysis) and thermal dynamic simulation for the calculation of energy loads during the use of buildings. The proposed methodology was applied to the renovation of a university building located in the General Military Academy of the Spanish Army in Zaragoza in north-eastern Spain; following two different renovation proposals: a conventional renovation proposal and an NZEB renovation proposal based on the Passivhaus construction standard.

Obtained results show that both proposals achieved great energy savings, decreasing the energy consumption during the building use by between 60% and 80%. On the one hand, the conventional renovation project supposes less embodied energy and fewer environmental impacts but also generates fewer energy savings. On the other hand, Passivhaus renovation alternative supposes an increase in the amount of insulation material with respect to the current insulation systems and an increase in the embodied energy of the building.

However, the alternative does avoid impacts associated with reduced building energy consumption, achieving an operational energy savings of approximately 80%. Moreover, the most significant conclusion is the convenience of using these two combined methodologies, because it provides a more complete view of building life cycle and the energy and environmental implications of a renovation.

Additionally, to adhere more closely to the aims of low-energy building standards, this study analyzed the introduction of materials with the lowest carbon and energy contents. For that, cork was compared with the most common insulation materials installed in buildings. The cork material is extracted from the outer bark of the cork oak tree. This cork extraction is a sustainable process because it does not damage the tree, and following extraction, new bark re-grows.

The current insulation products made of cork do not meet the requirements to compete with the most commonly used insulation material because they do not imply better environmental performance of buildings. However, cork insulation products present ample room for improvement, as demonstrated by simulations of the proposed strategies throughout their life cycles, and could become more efficient and productive.

Summarizing, the introduction of sustainability in buildings have to be carried out in a comprehensive manner. It is important to avoid the transfer of environmental impact between different stages of building construction since the generated specific impacts could be made invisible. Moreover, this global incorporation of sustainability has to extend not only to energy, but all resources used during the total life cycle of buildings.

These findings are described in the article entitled Integrated lifecycle assessment and thermodynamic simulation of a public building’envelope renovation: Conventional vs. Passivhaus proposal, recently published in the journal Applied Energy. This work was conducted by Jorge Sierra-Pérez, Jesús Boschmonart-Rives, and Xavier Gabarrell from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, and Beatriz Rodríguez-Soria from the Centro Universitario de la Defensa. You can contact Jorge Sierra-Pérez via email  and on twitter @jsierraperez.

About The Author

Jorge Sierra-Pérez

Jorge is an assistant professor at the University of Zaragoza, Department of Design and Manufacture Engineering (EINA).

Speak Your Mind!


Tumors In A Dish: Tools That Teach Us How To Improve Cancer Treatments

The growth of new blood vessels from existing blood vessels – angiogenesis – has been a prominent target of cancer therapy for nearly half a century. By stopping angiogenesis in tumors, cancer cells would be deprived of precious blood, oxygen, and nutrients that are necessary for continued survival. Many anti-angiogenic therapies have resulted in reduced […]

Admixed Populations: How To Correct For Ancestry Bias In Genetic Association Studies

Admixed populations pose a special challenge in genetic association studies due to the different proportions of a contribution of two or more ancestries. In the classic design of case-control studies, allele frequencies between disease and healthy subjects are compared; however, spurious associations not related to causative loci can be obtained by unmeasured population substructure. The […]

Quadratic Optimization and Quantum Computing

Recent advances in quantum computing along with increased interest in solving difficult optimization problems is shining a light on a research area that has been quietly growing for the past twenty plus years. This area involves modeling difficult decision problems as Quadratic Unconstrained Binary Optimization (QUBO) problems and then solving them on a new type […]

The Formation Of Mars’ Juventae Chasma

Mars is a planet of geological curiosities that often have no parallels on Earth. Among these include the largest and deepest canyon system — Valles Marineris (over 4000 km long and 12 km deep). Within this canyon system, a suite of light-toned, layered sedimentary rocks occurs that is still elusive to scientists as to their […]

A Closer Look At Two Novel Selective AH Receptor Modulators

The aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) was originally found in 1976 as the mediator of toxicity and induction of drug-metabolizing enzymes caused by the highly potent environmental contaminants, dioxins, and polycyclic aromatics. Subsequent studies disclosed AHR to be an over 600-million-year-old protein, whose homologs are critical to normal development in Drosophila (the common fruit fly) and […]

Map Of The Maine Coast And Towns

Take a look at the map of Maine’s coastline and you’ll notice it’s dotted with small towns and beautiful rocky beaches. The state of Maine has 3,478 miles of coastline, which is actually more than California’s coast, so it is safe to assume there are quite a few towns in the entire state as well. The […]

Patient Preference And Timing For Exercise In Breast Cancer Care

Treatments for cancer vary and depend on many individual factors. However, there is one universal recommendation for cancer patients: avoid inactivity (1). Several national and international agencies recommend exercise participation for all persons following a cancer diagnosis. It is safe, reduces fatigue, elevates mood, and increases general well-being. For some cancer patients, particular types of […]