October 27, 2021
Today the Carbon Leadership Forum released a ground-breaking report on the potential for meaningful climate impact through materials that serve as carbon sinks. Such materials have a clear advantage, with the potential to reverse the climate profile of buildings from a leading driver of carbon emissions to carbon reservoirs that can help reverse it.
Recent recognition of the severity of the climate crisis and the need for major, impactful interventions has accelerated interest in low-carbon and carbon-storing materials that can redress the significant upfront emissions associated with conventional building materials. Decades of previous work to develop, improve, and implement these materials now provide a strong base of research, product development, and case studies that can support the drive to bring these materials to market quickly and help meet global climate targets.
Past experience with low-carbon and carbon-storing building materials has shown that specification and use of materials are indeed feasible and can match conventional alternatives in terms of cost, code compliance, and construction schedules. However, the significant investments required to scale many of these materials has largely impaired their shift into the mainstream. The potential for meaningful climate impact through materials that serve as carbon sinks now gives such materials a clear advantage, with the potential to reverse the climate profile of buildings from a leading driver of carbon emissions to carbon reservoirs that can help reverse it.
Findings from this ground-breaking study highlight six materials for use in building foundations, structures, and/or enclosure systems. These materials—earthen slabs, non-portland cement concrete slabs, algae-grown bricks/panels, mycelium structural tubes, purpose-grown fiber, and agricultural waste panels—warrant in-depth examination because they offer novel material technologies or novel material uses with high carbon-storing potential, and they are worthy of investment to accelerate their scaling, manufacturing, and marketable use in the building industry supply chain. Furthermore this study outlines a methodology for establishing evaluation criteria to assess a given material’s potential for impact in a carbon-positive architecture.
CLF is a program in the University of Washington College of Built Environments. The research team thanks Microsoft for funding this research, Sean James, Microsoft’s Director of Datacenter Research, for commissioning the project, WSP‘s Ben Stanley and Ryan Dicks for their management and support of the project, and CLF’s Monica Huang for help in preparing this publication.