Feb 28, 2020

Science Friday: How The World Of Building Materials Is Responding To Climate Change

Science Friday host Ira Flatow interviews CLF’s Kate Simonen, plus Martin Pei, Chief Technology Officer of European steel company SSAB, and Jeremy Gregory, Director of the Concrete Sustainability Hub at MIT, about how the traditional building materials sector is going green.
Listen to this 35-minute program

Mjøstårnet – Verdens høyeste trehusIn order to slow a warming planet, nearly every industry will be forced to adapt: airlines, fashion, and even the unglamorous and often overlooked building materials sector.
Just like the farm to table movement, consumers are increasingly thinking about where the raw materials for their homes and cities come from, and how they impact climate change. And in response to this concern, the materials sector is serving up an unusual menu option: wood.

“Mass timber” is the buzzword these days in the world of sustainable building materials. Architects are crazy for it, engineers praise its excellent structural properties, and even forestry managers are in support of its use.


T3 Minneapolis – Installation Timelapse from StructureCraft on Vimeo.

A timelapse of the construction of the T3 office building in Minneapolis, the first tall mass timber building in the U.S. Credit: StructureCraft
Of course cutting down trees to curb carbon emissions seems counterintuitive at first. And there are skeptics who doubt whether wood is strong enough to build future city skyscrapers.

Frank Lowenstein, Chief Conservation Officer with the New England Forestry Foundation and Casey Malmquist, Founder and CEO of timber company SmartLam North America, join Ira to explain why the hype over mass timber’s potential to mitigate climate change is the real deal.

And as the popularity of sustainable mass timber rises, big carbon-emitting industries like steel and concrete are facing pressure to address their role in the climate crisis. One steel company out of Sweden is aiming to make it’s product carbon-neutral by 2026 by replacing coal with hydrogen in the steel-making process. And other researchers are hoping to make concrete more sustainable by using ingredients that would actually trap carbon inside the material.

We hear from Martin Pei, Chief Technology Officer of European steel company SSAB, and Jeremy Gregory, Director of the Concrete Sustainability Hub at MIT, about how the traditional building materials sector is going green.
Plus, architect and structural engineer Kate Simonen of the University of Washington talks about the need for more sustainable building materials to construct homes for an estimated 2.3 billion more people by the year 2050.

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