How the steel industry is tracking toward low-carbon design

By Dr Troy Coyle, HERA CEO

The sustainability targets of the steel industry are ambitious and far-reaching – and thanks to the collaborative and focused mahi of many contributors, those targets are inching closer by the week.

HERA has received $150,000 from BRANZ, funded by the building research levy, to support its $772,000 low-carbon design research project. The objective is to develop a design framework to reduce construction waste, lifecycle embodied carbon, and enhance the circular economy for construction materials.

Having now undertaken a literature review, we believe this kaupapa will be the first of its kind globally. Once the framework has been formed, the research team will use it to support a Stage 1 pilot for typical low-rise building typologies (one to three storeys including both residential and commercial buildings) to assist engineers and other practitioners to design low-carbon buildings. There are specific deliverables, which will include:

  • A material- and typology-agnostic design guidance framework that can be used by the sector as a template for preparing design guidance to achieve the lowest embodied carbon.
  • Specific guidance for design engineers in the pilot on steel, steel-concrete, steel-timber, and using the framework.
  • Identification of knowledge gaps that need further research and development to address. This will provide guidance to BRANZ on future research needs and guidance to the sector on future stages of the framework’s development, so carbon reduction can expand to other areas of design.

The development of the framework and the subsequent pilot will help the construction sector to proactively respond to the impending changes being introduced by MBIE via the Building for Climate Change programme. This mahi is required because designers do not currently have the tools and guidelines available to comprehensively consider carbon reductions in building design.

One organisation pushing towards the industry’s low-carbon future is Wellington-based volumetric offsite manufacturing company Niche Modular Construction, the first company to use HERA’s Zero Carbon Steel programme, Hōtaka Whakakore Puhanga Waro. Niche is utilising the carbon offsets to reduce the net emissions of its steel modular building projects, which are primarily classroom buildings. Niche operates in both the public and private sectors and is also exploring the potential application of offsets in modular apartments. The company has its own engineering department that handles all aspects of the structural steel components, and it reports the additional costs of using Zero Carbon Steel have been manageable; niche bears the expense of offsetting rather than transferring this to the customer.

Other options for businesses are to become Sustainable Steel Certified via the Sustainable Steel Council, and to start thinking about calculating their operational carbon footprint as a first step towards achieving carbon neutrality.

To hear more about Niche Modular Construction’s experience with the Zero Carbon Steel program, listen to my chat with technical manager Nico Patchay on the Stirring the Pot podcast.

Dr Troy Coyle brings more than 20 years’ experience in innovation management across a range of industries including materials science, medical radiation physics, biotechnology, sustainable building products, renewable energy and steel. She is a scientist with a PhD (University of NSW) and training in journalism and communications.(ENDS) (HEADS)How the steel industry is tracking toward low-carbon design