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Embodied Energy in Construction

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

Hong Kong imports most of its construction materials used in buildings. In the country of origin, energy is used to mine, process, assemble, and manufacture materials, components and finished products, and because the energy has already been used in the production, we call this energy embodied energy.

The energy used is forever tied with the material or product, for example importing steel made in China, the steel has all the energy used in it production embedded within it.

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, or environmental product declarations provided by the manufacturers.

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

Energy Embodied

Embodied Energy is meant to reflect the energy during production of materials, for construction that means the materials used to construct our buildings, and in the Hong Kong context that means predominantly 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, and emit carbon dioxide during those processes.

In Hong Kong there are no steel factories, so all building materials are generally 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 plant and transported using concrete trucks to the site.

embodied energy

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 energy/carbon used is tied to the material, and embodied energy / embodied carbon is the term used to define those emissions.

In a perfect world all the materials would arrive with emodied energy label, totalling up those figures provides the emodied energy figure, but real life is rarely that straightforward.

One element for example steel, can be provided by different factories in different countries, each with a different embodied energy 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 Energy in Waste

Its often overlooked, after the useful life of a product or material its sent to landfill, that includes the trapped or embodied energy used in its production. Whereas certain type of 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, is used as a raw material for creating new gypsum board or could be used as a conditioner added to soil;

embodied energy

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.

The EMSD LCA tool provides the calculation software to estimate the embodied energy in building structures, and BEAMPLUS EU3 New buildings, encourages embodied energy assessment at the concept stage, giving knowledge to designers before key decisions are made.

If the lowest embodied energy scheme is chosen, an extra bonus point is available. The embodied energy in a building structure can be calculated at different stages of the project development, same for embodied carbon, but once the key decision is made its merely an mathematical exercise.

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tags: embodied energy, EU3, GHG, embodied carbon, Hong Kong
date: 16-04-21