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Embodied Carbon

John Herbert, hong kong energy saving expert, BEAM expert
John Herbert

Embodied Carbon is part of the missing link, the construction materials used in buildings may account for 50% of the buildings carbon usage, and in the context of lower carbon, ignoring that Embodied Carbon is a lost opportunity.

Presently, there is no framework used in Hong Kong to assess Embodied Energy or Embodied Carbon, only the EMSD LCCA tool can be used to calculate the embodied energy which equates to embodied carbon.

Like it or not, sustainability and energy are two sides of the same coin.


Embodied carbon is meant to reflect the carbon emission during production of materials, and for construction that means the materials used to construct buildings, in the Hong Kong context that means predominantly reinforced concrete and steel. Other countries often use a wide range of materials, but the assessment principles are the same.

Production of the concrete and steel require vast quantities of energy, as a result emit carbon dioxide during those processes.

In Hong Kong there are no steel factories, so building materials are imported. For buildings using reinforced concrete, the components are mixed either on site in a batching plant for large projects or mixed in the concrete palnt and transported using concrete trucks to the site.

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Embodied Carbon and Production

Steel and the materials for making concrete are energy intensive, but are typically produced overseas and shipped to Hong Kong, therefore the resulting carbon emission does not appear as a local emission, but the carbon used is tied to the material, and embodied carbon is the term used to capture those emissions.

In a perfect world all the materials would arrive with emodied carbon label, totalling up those figures provides the emodied carbon figure, but is not that straightforward.

One element for example steel, can be provided by different factories in different countries, each with a different embodied carbon quantity and the data is often difficult to obtain.

Then some materials for example concrete comprise several different elements, which could also be sourced from different countries. Often one project will have steel and concrete materials from a mumber of countries, with different production methods and travel distances.

Embodied Carbon in Construction Waste

Its often overlooked, after the useful life of a product or material it is sent to landfill including the trapped embodied carbon. Whereas post consumer waste can be repurposed and used efficiently. Some examples

- waste concrete, a free resource, is used as a raw material for producing new concrete blocks;
- waste glass (cullet), a free resource, is used as a raw material for producing new glass or used as replacement for sand producing concrete blocks;
- waste gypsum board, a free resource, can be reused as a raw material for creating new gypsum board;

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With the expertise to back this up, for example specifying energy, water and waste efficient techniques and equipment in buildings and infrastructure and the specialist analysis techniques to demonstrate the practical environmental performance. We also advise on the potential for gathering and using of all forms renewable energy.

What next? call Mr John Herbert in our Hong Kong office today.

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tags: embodiedcarbon, carbon, embodiedenergy, hongkong, construction, buildings
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