How tech enables a circular economy in construction

Tech circular economy Ellis Fox Blog

There’s a different train of thought that drives the circular economy, and that is to view everything as a resource. Not just materials such as steel, cement, or aggregate, but whole buildings, highways, railways, power stations, etc.

If the construction industry aims to become circular in future by reducing their use of virgin resources, there needs to be a way to identify resources in the economy that can be reused, repurposed, or recycled. This may seem like an impossible task, especially when many buildings are decades old and records of materials will be nearly impossible to find. Fortunately modern technologies are proving to be very useful when it comes to finding the right answers.

Excess materials exchange platforms

Building Information Management (BIM) platforms are widely used for project management in most major construction and infrastructure projects. Adding material passports captures all the data necessary to identify resources and how they might one day be repurposed. This includes properties, geometry, and quantities as well as ownership status. Once the information is in a database, it becomes possible to track usage and even trade surplus. This is an efficient way to create better connections between supply and demand.

Robotic disassembly and sorting

Currently, most demolition is done manually and mechanically. It’s time consuming, often hazardous, and makes it difficult to salvage and sort materials. In the same way as robots are used to assemble cars and electronic components, they could be used to more carefully deconstruct buildings, bridges, and other infrastructure. It’s a safer alternative that could result in a greater yield of reusable materials.

Internet of Things (IoT)

Increasingly construction companies are being held accountable for their projects’ carbon footprint. Much of this is related to materials and construction methods. It’s a lot of information to keep track of. Going beyond BIM, IoT opens new opportunities to track and trace different elements of construction. One way that this is being implemented is through QR codes. Scanning these is a  way of connecting all the different elements involved in a project to a database so that the information is much easier to audit.  

Digital transformation in construction is progressing, but still at a relatively slow pace. With a shift in priorities towards achieving circular aims, the return on investing in these technologies becomes far more attractive. Especially now that being able to demonstrate accountability when it comes to bidding on major tenders can translate into a competitive advantage.