Canadian team’s hempcrete building is ‘carbon-minimal, beautiful’

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Construction of a newly opened hempcrete building at Canada’s University of British Columbia (UBC) resulted in 80 percent less carbon emissions than had it been built using traditional techniques and materials, according to researchers who tracked project.

Designed with a goal to reach near-zero “embodied carbon” – the total amount of CO2 emissions associated with the production, transportation, and disposal of a material or product – the project is an initiative of Third Quadrant Design, an interdisciplinary team made up of 60 students from the university’s engineering, architecture, arts and business programs who worked alongside professional contractors.

The 2,400-square-foot building, named “Third Space Commons,” serves as a teaching and learning space at UBC’s Faculty of Applied Science.

Sustainable alternative

“Typical emissions estimates in the construction industry consider only about 40-60 percent of a building’s total materials due to a lack of established standards for measuring the rest,” said Adam Rysanek, assistant professor at the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, an adviser to the team.

The team stressed sustainability in all materials and systems, including electrical, heating and ventilation. Traditional concrete, a major contributor to CO2 emissions in the building industry, was largely avoided on the project, which features a foundation of reusable steel piles. Framing is of light timbers as opposed to engineered wood, more carbon intensive because it requires glues derived from fossil fuels.

The team sourced leftover materials from other building sites in the Vancouver area, and reclaimed other components for the build. “Our windows, solar panels, appliances, and much of our lumber was on its way to a landfill,” said construction lead and civil engineering student Peter Ehrlich.

Path to ‘net-zero’ CO2

The project is planned as an entry in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon Build Challenge, an international competition that recognizes high-performance building design.

“With Third Space Commons we now have a prototype for how we can get to truly net-zero carbon in building design, particularly for low-rise homes, schools, and multi-family dwellings,” Rysanek said. “More than anything, the team is demonstrating how sustainability and regenerative design can lead to buildings that are both carbon-minimal and beautiful.”

Third Quadrant recently received the inaugural B.C. Embodied Carbon Award for Small Building Construction by the British Columbia Carbon Leadership Forum for its work in carbon accounting for the construction industry.

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