The Carbon Story
Understanding the Carbon Footprint of Building Operations & Construction
The Built Environment Generates 40% of Annual Global CO2 Emissions
© Architecture 2030. All Rights Reserved.
Data Sources: IEA (2022), Buildings, IEA, Paris
Surprisingly, just three materials - concrete, steel, and aluminum - are responsible for 23% of all global emissions. A significant portion of these emissions originates from the built environment, highlighting their substantial impact on our planet
Global Building Floor Area is Expected to Double by 2060
© Architecture 2030. All Rights Reserved.
Data Sources: Global ABC, Global Status Report 2017
To meet the demands of the unprecedented wave of urban growth in human history, we face a formidable task that is tantamount to adding another New York City to the world every month, and this would have to continue unabated for four decades
State governments across the United States are taking action to reduce the growing carbon footprint of the construction industry
In New York officials have pledged to reduce carbon emissions by an astounding 80% by 2050. To achieve this goal, they have enacted Local Law 97, a piece of legislation recognized globally for its ambitious stance on climate change, focusing specifically on buildings.
On the other side of the country, California is leading the charge toward decarbonizing the built environment. They have enacted the innovative Buy Clean California Act, which mandates the determination and public disclosure of the maximum Global Warming Potential (GWP) rates for certain building materials the state procures.
At BamCore, we are committed to carbon-negative building practices and staying ahead of forward-thinking regulatory advancements in the ever-evolving landscape of green construction. Our mission is to use the best of nature and technology to decarbonize the built environment.
Operational Carbon (Energy)
Defining Operational (Ongoing) Carbon
Operational carbon is a term that encompasses the total emissions from all energy sources required to run our buildings - be it heating, cooling, ventilation, lighting, or powering. These energy sources commonly include electricity and natural gas, though fuel oil, propane, and wood may also contribute.
The 'carbon' in operational carbon represents all the greenhouse gases (GHGs) released by these energy sources, encapsulating the entire GHG emission from them. You may come across the term 'CO2e', which denotes 'carbon dioxide equivalent'. This term is used when calculating the impact of various GHGs, where those with a greater warming effect than carbon dioxide, like methane, are given more weight proportional to their environmental impact.
How BamCore Stacks Up
The Innovative Prime Wall™ Design Shows Significant Reduction in GHG Emissions Linked to Energy Consumption for Heating & Cooling in BamCore Homes
Over a 70-year lifespan, carbon emissions from energy usage could decrease by up to 44% in CO2e compared to conventional wood stud framing and SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels).
When it comes to operational emissions, the BamCore Prime Wall™ system demonstrates substantial savings:
It results in a reduction of 123 MT CO2e per home when compared to a SIPs-constructed home.
It translates into an impressive decrease of 227 MT CO2e per home compared to those built with traditional wood stud framing.
BamCore buildings save 0.17 to 0.37 tonnes of CO2e per year, a reduction of up to 6%
Embodied Carbon (Materials)
Defining Embodied (Upfront) Carbon
Embodied carbon signifies the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions generated from all energy sources involved in the procurement, processing, manufacturing, and transportation of materials to the construction site, along with their assembly into a building. Similar to operational carbon, we assess this footprint using carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e).
Interestingly, a trifecta of materials - concrete, steel, and aluminum - account for a striking 23% of global emissions, with the majority utilized within the built environment. This statistic demonstrates the enormous potential of reducing embodied carbon in decarbonization efforts. The keys to this opportunity lie in strategic policy-making, thoughtful design, judicious material selection, and meticulous specification.
How BamCore Stacks Up
Harnessing Bio-Based Materials with the BamCore Prime Wall™ is the Future of Carbon Negative Construction
Bio-based buildings fulfill a dual role: substituting high-emission building materials such as steel, concrete, aluminum, and plastics and acting as storage units for biogenic carbon. This carbon is pulled from the atmosphere as bio-based materials regenerate and capture CO2. The faster this regrowth, the quicker CO2 is extracted from the atmosphere and secured in the building. This carbon capture rate is inexplicably overlooked in current carbon accounting standards. Remarkably, a hectare of sustainably managed timber bamboo captures, on average, an additional 1,625 metric tonnes of CO2 per year compared to trees.
Examining the embodied emissions of the BamCore Prime Wall™ system, we see significant savings:
It reduces emissions by 1 metric tonne CO2e per home compared to a home built with SIPs.
It decreases emissions by 2 metric tonnes CO2e per home relative to traditional wood stud framing.
Green Building Materials
To build carbon-negative, you must begin with fast-growing biogenic materials that excel at sequestering atmospheric carbon. This will allow you to reduce your embodied (upfront) carbon footprint.
Timber Bamboo: Climate Champion and Sustainable Construction Powerhouse
Bamboo outshines wood in terms of construction properties. Timber bamboo can be twice as stiff and strong as wood, allowing for less material usage in building frames for equivalent structural loads.
With the threats of deforestation, climate change, and a materials shortage crisis, timber bamboo emerges as a formidable solution. We're losing 10 billion trees annually, signaling a pressing need for sustainable alternatives. As per our 2019 publication, Carbon Farming with Timber Bamboo, bamboo efficiently sequesters carbon, requires less land, provides superior building material, and fights deforestation.
Timber bamboo is notably more efficient than wood at capturing and storing atmospheric carbon when used in building frames. In fact, it is five to six times more efficient. This is due to its regenerative nature and rapid growth rate. Once a bamboo clump matures, which takes about five to seven years, it can be sustainably harvested annually without replanting. This preserves soil ecosystems and avoids mass carbon release events typically associated with clear-cutting during timber harvests.
Additionally, a single bamboo stalk can grow up to 20 meters in its first year, a feat that timber would take 25+ years to achieve. Research by Quantis International also shows that producing the fiber needed for a typical single-family house requires 78% less land when using timber bamboo instead of traditional timber.
Bamboo can also be essential in reforestation and afforestation efforts in the tropics and subtropics. Its extensive root system flourishes on problematic soils and steep slopes, helping restore degraded lands and reduce soil erosion. Bamboo's resilience to acidic and alkaline soils means it can thrive where other plants struggle, thus sparing agriculturally productive lands from competition.
In summary, the benefits of bamboo as a sustainable building material are undeniable. Its rapid growth, superior strength, adaptability, and ecological benefits present it as a compelling response to climate change and the housing crisis. Bamboo is not just an alternative to traditional hardwoods—it's a symbol of hope for the future of our planet.
The Eucalyptus Tree: Menace or Titan of Environmental and Economic Advantage
A study by N. Sembiring et al. (2020 IOP Conf. Ser.: Mater. Sci. Eng. 935 012068) recognizes Eucalyptus as an environmental champion contributing to many advantages. For example, its speedy growth and regenerative capacity are vital in sequestering atmospheric carbon, a key weapon in our fight against climate change.
Other advantages include:
Optimizing water usage.
Revitalizing unproductive or degraded lands.
Regenerative properties and an extensive root system mitigate soil ecology disruption and nurture sustainable biodiversity.
Regarding sustainable hardwoods for construction, Eucalyptus is surpassed only by timber bamboo. The trees' straight, long, and robust nature - comparable to teak and on average 10-20% denser - combined with a rapid growth rate, makes Eucalyptus an appealing choice for engineered building materials. Plus, their evolutionary adaptations lend remarkable fire resistance, positioning them as a preferable alternative to more combustible species like pine in construction.
Over 62 million years, Eucalyptus trees have evolved to survive in fire-prone areas. One crucial survival strategy is their ability to regenerate after a fire. Many types have dormant buds, known as epicormic buds, beneath their bark. These can grow new shoots after a fire, facilitating swift recovery. Additionally, some types produce fruits that release seeds following a fire, exploiting the nutrients from burned vegetation for propagation. Moreover, the regenerative abilities of Eucalyptus trees make them efficient carbon storages compared to other fire-regenerating biomes.
The risks and benefits of Eucalyptus trees in fire-prone areas are subject to ongoing research and debate.
The author of "Eucalyptus Myths" proposes that these trees can help mitigate wildfires by acting as windbreaks, blocking flying embers. While the trees themselves are fire-resistant, the fallen bark and oily leaf litter can serve as potential fuel when accumulated on the forest floor. This has sparked controversy over whether it aids rapid underbrush burning to rejuvenate the forest or contributes to the intensity of today's catastrophic wildfires.
Carbon Farming with Timber Bamboo
Timber bamboo, when regularly harvested and transformed into durable products, sequesters between 4.9 and 6 times more CO2e than wood
Our planet is on the verge of surpassing the 1.5°C global warming limit set for 2030, which will likely exceed the 2°C upper limit. If this happens, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) anticipates significant adverse effects on human health, livelihoods, food security, water availability, physical safety, and global economic growth.
The IPCC states that all strategies to combat climate change must involve immediate and substantial carbon dioxide removal (CDR) from the atmosphere, also known as sequestration. However, action has been limited because reliable methods for capturing and storing atmospheric CO2 are scarce, except for nature-based solutions like biogenic sequestration via afforestation and reforestation.
Although reforestation works, it's only effective when harvests are converted into long-lasting wood products that can store carbon. However, wood sequestration is too slow, and clear-cut wood harvests lead to devastating CO2 emissions. With its short annual harvest cycle, we propose that sustainably managed, fast-growing timber bamboo plantations, or carbon farms, can generate massive amounts of carbon removal and yield high-grade structural fiber. This solution is particularly appealing, given the increasing demand for CO2 removal and structural fiber.
Interestingly, data suggests that most of the bamboo's carbon capture happens within the first 15 years, far quicker than trees. To validate our hypothesis that timber bamboo outperforms wood in sequestration, we created the first multi-species/multi-location bamboo growth model and a systematic decision-making framework to compare annual carbon flows from timber bamboo and wood. Our results indicated that timber bamboo, when regularly harvested and transformed into durable products, sequesters between 4.9 and 6 times the carbon that wood does.
Finally, we calculated the potential climate change mitigation benefits of substituting traditional wood products with durable timber bamboo building materials like BamCore’s Prime Wall™ System. This system's superior thermal performance and the dynamics of land-use conversion suggest that even a marginal substitution in G-7 economies can decrease atmospheric CO2 by over 23 gigatonnes in the next century.
It's time for the world to leverage the potential of nature’s fastest-growing structural fiber. Read the full report here.
Our Green Down Payment:
Fighting Climate Change by Turning Buildings into Carbon Sinks with Timber Bamboo
Our fight against climate change necessitates the reduction of atmospheric carbon and the decarbonization of our built environments
This dual necessity directs our attention toward the world’s standing wood forests and the dependable photosynthesis technology for carbon removal. Although wood forests play a role in carbon sequestration, their inherently slow growth rate presents a significant hurdle. Bamboo, the fastest-growing fiber on land, overcomes these limitations with ease.
Our analysis presented in "Our Green Down Payment" and delivered to the International Union of Forestry Research Organizations sheds light on the challenges of wood forestation. It highlights the issues of space utilization and efficiency that are inherent in this process. Additionally, projected increases in land competition due to other carbon removal techniques, food production, and population growth may impede the carbon sequestration capacity of timber forests.
Quantis International's research substantiates that bamboo can generate enough building fiber for a typical single-family house with 78% less land compared to wood
While mature wood forests offer a carbon removal solution, the wood harvested is indispensable for creating durable products, such as buildings. Trees take decades to reach their full carbon sequestration potential, yet upon harvest, the soil disruption launches a carbon emissions event. Rarely more than half of the captured carbon is stored within a building.
Conversely, timber bamboo can also be integrated into buildings, bringing a noteworthy advantage to the table. After an initial seven-year growth period, timber bamboo can be harvested annually, making it five to six times more carbon productive than similar wood. Furthermore, timber bamboo is at least four times more efficient in total fiber production for an equivalent planted land area.
By accelerating the incorporation of timber bamboo into our built environments, we can transform buildings into effective carbon sinks, providing an essential "green down payment" towards the necessary carbon removal in this decisive decade. Read the full report here.
DAC + BAC:
Using Tech and Nature to Combat Climate Change - Should Nature-based CO2 Removal Take Center Stage?
The United Nations' IPCC recently released a synthesis report on climate change, highlighting the urgency to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and affirming the need for carbon removal.
2022 was a big year for advancing awareness in atmospheric carbon capture, and with all the excitement around engineered carbon-removal startups, it's easy to overlook the tried and true. Enter the underdog: Timber Bamboo. While DAC will undoubtedly play a critical role in long-term carbon removal, BamCore argues in "DAC + BAC: A Diversified Approach to Carbon Removal” that it is imperative that we also focus our attention and investment on the time-tested and immediately scalable solution given to us by nature, Biogenic (or Bamboo) Air Capture (BAC).
The 2020s will be a defining decade in the fight against global warming as we work to avoid crucial tipping points. Machine-based direct air capture (DAC) will not be our saving grace as it will take one to two decades to scale up and become cost-effective. DAC plants also require large amounts of concrete and steel to construct, the two highest carbon-emitting materials. This raises the question: will DAC emit more greenhouse gases during set-up and operations than it can capture and store in this critical decade?
In addition to the large price tag (in the trillions), the energy to power DAC at scale is massive.
According to a report by Shell, “Direct air capture is still in its infancy, and while it could one day be a crucial climate tool, it's hugely energy-intensive. It's effectively like running a giant air conditioner to cool the atmosphere. In a scenario where the world limits global warming in line with the Paris climate agreement, the final energy demand for direct air capture rises from about nothing today to almost 66 exajoules in 2100. That would be more than the energy needed to heat and power all the world's homes by then.”
We are racing against time and need solutions that can scale quickly.
While we plan for the future of atmospheric carbon removal, we must focus on faster solutions to beat the ticking 1.5°C clock. When comparing the two solutions, it becomes apparent that the many challenges associated with technology-based direct air capture (DAC) do not exist for nature-based biological air capture (BAC).