December 6, 2021

Aluminium: Combatting construction’s carbon footprint

With the aim, laid out by the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC), to make all buildings Net Zero by 2050, the construction industry must make changes — starting with material choice. Here, Nick Cowley, Managing Director at aluminium building product supplier, Endurawood, explains why aluminium plays an important role in making the construction industry more sustainable.

Innovation organisation InnovateUK states that construction, operation and maintenance of the built environment account for 45% of total UK carbon emissions. By 2031, it’s predicted that the UK’s population will exceed 70m. This, combined with an increasing need for buildings and homes, means it’s imperative that the industry takes action to reduce its carbon emissions.

Carbon construction

Common building materials such as concrete and timber are harmful to the environment. Concrete is the most commonly used man-made material on Earth, but is responsible for up to eight per cent of the world’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions — only coal, oil and gas are greater sources of greenhouse gases. The majority of CO2 emissions are produced during the making of cement clinker, which is ground up to a fine powder to produce cement.

Using wood as a building product does not directly emit greenhouse gases like the production of concrete, but deforestation is also detrimental to the environment. Fortunately, there are alternatives to these materials that can support sustainable resource management while still delivering on quality.

Aluminium benefits

Aluminium possesses many benefits that make it an ideal building material such as high ductility that allows it to be formed into different profiles, without weakening. In addition, aluminium is nearly as strong as and is lighter than steel, which makes it more manageable on site and its natural corrosion resistance that reduces the frequency of building maintenance.

Perhaps the most significant benefit of using aluminium lies with its recyclable and sustainable possibilities. Although there are sustainable options such as timber, straw and compressed earth, which can be used in the construction industry, these materials do not offer the required strength needed for a buildings structure.

Sustainable construction

Like all metals, aluminium production is not a hazard free process. Aluminium is chemically extracted from bauxite, an ore that must be mined. This is known as alumina, which is then smelted to form pure aluminium. While aluminium production is still impactful on the environment, these affects can be counteracted by the metal’s circularity potential.

It’s thought that around 75% of all aluminium produced remains in circulation, in some form or another. Aluminium can be melted and reused without any impact on its mechanical properties, which means aluminium products can be manufactured over and over again to the same high standard.

Aluminium applications

The benefits of aluminium make it an ideal building material as it can be applied to different areas of a build including roofing, wall panels, windows and doors. Aluminium can also be used as an alternative material to replace concrete and timber exterior cladding and batten systems, which can enhance the appearance of a building, and as a structural reinforcement.

Depending on the design of the build, the aesthetic of aluminium is not always desired. Endurawood is available in a range of powder coat and woodgrain coatings, which replicate the look of natural wood. In addition, these coatings are volatile organic compound (VOC) and lead free, which also contributes to the environmental benefits of aluminium.

While there are a number of steps that must be taken to achieve Net Zero emissions in the construction industry, considering a material such as aluminium could make a significant impact. If the industry wants to reduce its carbon footprint, harnessing the benefits of a lighter weight, sustainable material could help to make this possible.