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Unleashing the carbon cutting potential of 3D construction printing

by Sion Geschwindt
A new study published last week has proposed five ways that 3D construction printing (3DCP) can help decarbonise the cement industry.

3D construction printing could hold the key to decarbonising the cement industry. But its potential remains largely untapped…

A new study published in Nature last week has proposed five policy actions that could help 3D construction printing (3DCP) reach its carbon cutting potential.

According to the Georgetown University researchers who led the study, 3DCP has enormous potential to be a climate solution – decarbonising the cement supply chain and building structures that contain less carbon.

Contributing 8% of global CO2 emissions, cement is the second most used substance on Earth after water and its use is set to rise as populations grow and cities expand.

3D construction printing, a method for ‘printing’ elements or entire buildings that using concrete or other materials, has has long been touted for its cost and time saving benefits. But rarely has it been recognised as a decarbonisation tool.

Making 3DCP greener

The 3DCP process is, by design, very precise. It typically uses less cement and produces less waste compared to conventional concrete construction, leading to an overall reduction in emissions.

To minimise its carbon footprint further, the study suggests that the concrete that printers use should be supplemented with materials that contain lower embodied carbon such as industrial wastes, natural materials, alternative binders, and recycled materials. If these materials are sourced locally, even better.

Such actions could dramatically reduce emissions on the production side of the cement supply chain, the researchers said.

For these reasons, the scientists believe that 3DCP has the potential to keep up with the rising demand for new construction while simultaneously becoming a significant climate solution for the cement supply chain.

But this potential remains largely untapped.

“Governments around the world have started prioritising this [3DCP] technology in their national advanced manufacturing strategies,” said the study, which pointed to several examples, including from Dubai, China and the US. “Yet none of these government plans recognise the climate mitigation potential of such strategies,” it added.

The researchers have proposed five policy actions that can guide 3DCP toward becoming an emission abating tool:

  1. Research and development funding should continue so that the mechanical strength, durability, and long-term performance of 3D printing structures can be improved. Funding should also be ramped up for the development of more sustainable cement mixtures, and studies that improve the way 3D-printed structures are designed with an emphasis on reducuing waste and material use.
  2. Information dissemination and workforce development: open-sourced repositories to share data and make the climate benefits of 3DCP more visible. This includes doing more pilot projects, and fostering a skilled workforce that knows how to tap into the potential of the technology.
  3. Material standards: Develop manufacturing standards to ensure the strength and durability of 3D printable cementitious materials. Update buildings codes to include safe, replicable, and lowcost 3D printing protocols.
  4. Public procurement and partnerships: Publicly funded construction projects employing C3DP should be commissioned by governments to increase the demand and awareness of the technology. Establish public-private partnerships with construction firms to increase uptake of C3DP construction.
  5. Financial and structural incentives: Offer loans and rebates to conventional cement and concrete producers manufacturing 3D printable cementitious mixtures to increase materials supply and reduce costs. Offer financial and structural incentives to construction firms to increase the uptake of C3DP in construction projects.

“Acting early to enact such policies could have dramatic implications not only for global carbon emissions but also national competitiveness, the ultimate future of the construction sector, and how we continue to expand our built environment,” the paper concluded.

The 3DCP market was valued at $311m in 2019 and is expected to rise to $41bn by 2027.

Read the full article here.

Main image credit: PERI

Read next: World’s largest 3D printed community breaks ground in Texas

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