Feds fund project to integrate carbon metrics in building material databases

Researchers at Colorado State University, Ft. Collins, have been awarded a $600,000 National Science Foundation grant to develop measurement and assessment tools to be integrated with building material databases and architectural design software to provide real-time, “on-the-fly” carbon footprint metrics.

“When it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, a key element to changing behavior on the part of both building professionals and consumers is better environmental impact measurement systems,” says CSU Department of Soil and Crop Sciences faculty member Keith Paustian, who is directing the Carbon Footprint Metric (CFM) project. “Our ultimate goal is to develop a system that measures emissions for the entire building lifecycle, from design to decommissioning. The system will need to be readily accessible to architects and builders, easy to understand and use, and conforming to existing environmental management systems.”

The concept for a CFM system for the built environment was developed as part of a Global Challenges Research Team in the interdisciplinary School of Global Environmental Sustainability, or SoGES, at CSU. Graduate student Peter Means first suggested the CFM effort as a cross-disciplinary activity, based on his research on modular construction conducted in the CSU Department of Construction Management. “Less attention has been given to buildings as a major source of greenhouse gases, partially because it requires multiple disciplines to synthesize knowledge and develop a useful tool,” said Diana Wall, director of SoGES and a CSU University Distinguished Professor, acknowledging the research team for addressing the challenges.

In the built environment, emission sources include all the steps in producing and transporting building materials; building construction; building operation and maintenance, such as HVAC systems and landscaping; and, activities involved in building turnover, disposal and recycling.

The CSU research will consist of comprehensive Life Cycle Assessments from design through construction of three progressively more complex buildings: a cutting-edge modular residential building designed by Living Homes in Los Angeles; a CSU classroom and laboratory building in Fort Collins designed by Neenan Co.; and, an industrial building, the New Belgium brewery, in Asheville, N.C.

“From this research, we will create a CFM system prototype,” notes Paustian. “Once validated for each class of building, the CFM system will permit design and construction practitioners to evaluate and alter building designs in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the life of the building.” The CFM system will allow those in architecture, engineering and construction to create an integrated design for a “net zero” greenhouse-gas built environment, he adds.

The project has been endorsed by the American Institute of Architects, U.S. Green Building Council, National Institute for Building Science, Rocky Mountain Institute and Architecture 2030.