Blockchain technology for greener material

The focus on more sustainbale product standards and operations has increased dramatically in the recent years. With the vast amount of information and various standards, providing accesss to quality facts that can enable the customers to review products from start to finish is more important than ever. By doing so, the customer can make greener purchase decisions based on facts not just claims. Hydro and DNV GL are initiating a blockchain pilot to document product representations for Hydro CIRCAL and Hydro REDUXA.

Illustration shows Jan Christian Vestre with one of his company’s benches carrying a QR code for blockchain tracing. (Credit: Charlotte Sverdrup)

More about blockchain tracing and sustainability in Hydro, in the podcast Hydro Talks.
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“We see that our customers and their customers request trusted information documenting the footprint from our materials and production. The aim of the pilot is to test a platform that supports manufacturers and brands to back their sustainability claims with verified data. This will allow them to trace the metal from the factory gates until it reaches the customer,” says Bjørn Kjetil Mauritzen, Head of Sustainability in Hydro.

Tag. Trace. Trust

Hydro will implement the blockchain-powered “Tag. Trace. Trust.” service developed by DNV GL. It allows anyone to instantly check the validity, data and authenticity of the product’s environmental profile. “In this way, the aluminum product passport, with its unique digital ID, attached to the product displays key sustainability facts, such as low-carbon aluminum and post-consumer scrap content,” explains Lin Jacobsen Hammer, Business Development & Sustainability Manager in DNV GL-Business Assurance.

From raw material to a park bench

In the pilot phase, Hydro and DNV GL will work with the sustainable-furniture maker Vestre. The company uses Hydro CIRCAL in selected furniture lines. The product data on the platform gives the company and their customers traceability of the aluminium and the CO2 emissions from raw material to a finished bench in a public park.

The next step is to review the experience from the pilot to assess how Hydro can implement the platform to a standardized model. The goal is to roll out the platform to Hydro customers in 2021.

“Ultimately, this pilot is made possible through the work we have invested in our greener brands in recent years. As a result, we can now explore how new technology can provide the market and the conscious consumer with key data – presented in a way they understand and trust – as a part of our agenda of driving sustainability,” says Jørgen Hansson, project lead in Hydro.

What is blockchain?

Blockchain is a technology that allows for data to be validated and subsequently stored as an immutable ‘block’ through a peer-to-peer community on a digital database building on the principles of distributed ledger technology. The resulting blockchain is immutable because every block is validated based on previous blocks, making it near to impossible to alter – as the modification of a recorded transaction would require modifying all previous blocks. Blocks are validated by an algorithm to ensure replication among nodes is undertaken. Third-party verification of processes on integrity of adding data as well as data checks add confidence that product claims are trustworthy and documented.

How could a blockchain-enabled system provide provenance and responsible production claims?

A producer can document product quality, environmental impact and sustainability improvements distinctive to their products and make it available in a blockchain-based ecosystem. This creates differentiation in a competitive market increasingly looking for transparency and builds added trust in third party-validated sustainability claims.

The trustworthiness and security builds on three factors:

  1. Each certificate or product passport is equipped with a unique digital identity and therefore traceable.
  2. Documents equipped with a tag are therefore 100% authentic and unique and safely stored on the blockchain.
  3. Anyone can easily trace its origin at source and check authenticity and details on the blockchain.

About DNV GL

DNV GL is an independent global assurance provider operating in more than 100 countries. Through certification, verification, training and digital assurance solutions, DNV GL helps companies manage risks and assure sustainable performance of organizations, people, products and value chains across all types of industries. Combining technical, digital and industry expertise, DNV GL contributes to developing solutions and ecosystems helping organizations tackle global transformations in trusted and sustainable ways. With its origins stretching back to 1864, DNV GL continues to be driven by its purpose to safeguard life, property and the environment.

Project | LIXA

LIXA is located in the attractive Warsaw district Wola. The main part of the project will be a multifunctional complex of three buildings that are linked together by a spacious green garden courtyard. Huge glass facades made of at least 75% recycled aluminium (post-consumer scrap) cover the building. This means, products that have reached the end of their life, are brought back into the loop by being recycled and re-used in new products for buildings. This doesn’t just save energy – It also generates a far smaller impact on the environment.

The facade made with the prime quality aluminium alloy Hydro CIRCAL has a carbon footprint among the lowest in the world: 2.3 kg CO2 per kilo of aluminium. “By offering facades with a minimal carbon footprint, we can meet the increased demands on the market for sustainable aluminium solutions.” says Hubert Wiśniewski, Commercial Director for WICONA Poland.

Furthermore, LIXA will offer flexible offices with maximum access to daylight and natural ven- tilation. Floors with spacious working places, a green common terrace, a courtyard filled with sunlight surrounded by a relaxing atmosphere for creative meetings and working spaces. This is in addition to various service facilities such as restaurants, pre-school and shops. There will also be a charging station for electric vehicles available.

© HRA Architects

“LIXA is the third largest complex under construction in Warsaw, it will not only become a work- ing place – It will be a place to spend time, everyday”, says Michał Chrzanowski, HRA Architects. As the building will receive the certification BREEAM Excellent, LIXA will stand out as a durable and climate smart building. “The applied and well thought out system solutions will allow the facility to reduce energy demands in the future”, says Michał Chrzanowski.

© HRA Architects

Project: LIXA
Location: Warsaw, Poland Architect: HRA Architects General contractor: Porr
Facades made by: Firma Widok Sp. z o. o.
WICONA solutions: WICTEC 50, WICTEC 50 FP, WICLINE 75 evo, WICLINE 75 evo ventilation flap, WICSTYLE 75 evo
Renderings: © HRA Architects

Reach climate targets through smart use of construction materials

It is no longer enough to build energy-efficiently. We need to work hard to minimize emissions from the construction materials we use, including those that are generated when buildings are demolished. The construction sector has made great strides when it comes to building more efficiently in order to lower the energy consumption of buildings themselves. However, we still need to cut down on emissions associated with construction materials.  

“There is significant waste associated with construction materials. Buildings are often demolished rather than re-purposed and essentially recyclable materials are used as filler or burned. If we were talking about energy optimization, this would result in a poor rating. The thing is, though, that if you waste material, there’s no way of measuring the wastage. This is happening invisibly,” says Per Klevnäs, partner at Material Economics, a management consultancy firm dealing with sustainability and resource strategy that has researched value-retaining materials systems. 

Emissions from Swedish use of aluminium, steel, plastic and cement alone are estimated to account for 13 million tonnes of CO2 per year by 2040, if current production processes and systems for recycling remain unchanged.  

“We need to consider what happens to the materials once products and buildings, have served their purpose. We can achieve this by making changes to production and to the way that we use and handle various materials. Doing so would also result in a significant reduction in Sweden’s CO2 emissions,” explains Klevnäs.  

Traceability and materials bank 

 What is special about the construction sector is that there is a long lead time between materials being used and those same materials becoming available for recycling. During these lead times, the materials develop further, making it difficult to know exactly what their composition is and what additives they contain.  

A more holistic approach would make it possible to turn buildings into predictable sources of recyclable materials — so-called materials banks. 

“In order for this to be possible, there needs to be a high degree of traceability. This would allow a demolition contractor to know in advance what materials streams a building will generate. What we are missing today is a comprehensive system for this, but we’re moving closer to one,” says Klevnäs. 

Sweden currently applies a system whereby all materials involved in a building must be documented. If this system is updated continuously, it can serve as a record of materials, which is useful when it is time to demolish the building. The system is pioneering because it contains detailed information about chemical compositions. What remains to be done is to digitalizse the records and establish guidelines to ensure that updates are made continuously during ownership and management. 

aluminium scraps
What happens to the materials? “We need to consider what happens to the materials once products and buildings, have served their purpose,” says Per Klevnäs.

As beneficial for the economy as it is for the environment 

 Securing the circular materials system has as many economic benefits as it has environmental benefits. Sweden consumes steel, plastic, aluminium, paper and cement worth SEK 55 billion each year. Only 24 per cent of the material’s original value is retained following one usage cycle. This represents a loss in value of SEK 42 billion each year, according to Material Economics’ research report “Retaining Value in the Swedish Materials System.

“Consider how much freedom you have when it comes to choosing or applying the circular economy principles to your project. Reuse local materials, cut down on waste in the construction process and build in a way that makes it possible to recycle the materials,” says Klevnäs.  

aluminium scraps melting
THINK RECYCLING: Securing the circular materials system has as many economic benefits as it has environmental benefits.

Low-carbon aluminium

In order to preserve greater values in the future, we not only need to recycle more. It must also be possible to repeatedly reuse that which is recycled. 

“We can achieve this by making changes to production and to the way that we use and handle various materials,” explains Klevnäs. 

The good news is that this is entirely possible.

In response to consumer demand for climate-smart products, Hydro has developed two new aluminium products. One consists of at least 75% recycled materials and the other is produced using hydropower, resulting in CO2 emissions of a maximum of four kilos per kilo of aluminium. The aluminium manufacturer is now experiencing growing demand for CIRCAL 75R and REDUXA 4.0 for use in BREEAM-certified construction projects.  

“We want the use of our metal to generate fewer carbon emissions. These new low-carbon certificates mean that we are able to help our clients fulfill their ambitious climate strategies. Together, we can work toward a future where emissions from the industry as a whole are low,” says Eivind Kallevik, Hydro’s executive vice president responsible for the Primary Metal business.

At Hydro, we believe passionately in a sustainable future. In this article series, we will be talking to industry leaders and professionals and exploring the topic of “a sustainable construction sector”. Here we discuss how we can create a future for building and construction through technical innovation.

Future trends in B&C

Prefab building in the “Smashing Twenties” 

In many ways, he believes the 2020s to become a reprise of the 1920s.
So, here are the trends having an impact on B&C industry:

  • In that era garden cities emerged, where people could live in green environments, with gardens, large terraces, parks etc.  The same is expected in the post-corona era. 
  • Re-urbanisation will be major, large cities will shrink, many citizens migrate to rural regions where they can live, work from home part-time or full-time and where they anticipate living from lockdown to lockdown in a century of pandemics and social unrest.
  • Small electric planes will enhance re-urbanisation.
  • Factories return from China: reshoring.
  • And multi-generational homes will become trendy. Also, communities of friends (= family, families of friends) can live together in order to beat loneliness.
(c) Adjiedj Bakas

Trendwatcher Adjiedj Bakas (1963 ) will speech about the post-corona world,he sold 1 million books worldwide, here a video about his vision. He is author of the book ‘The New Renaissance’.

Project | Mercator One

‘I hope the industry discovers the untapped potential of recycled aluminium’

Germany’s first building with a facade made of recycled end-of-life aluminium is about to see the light of day. Mercator One is a shining example of sustainability, created by Hamburg-based Hadi Teherani Architects.

“With Mercator One we’ll show that it’s possible to make an office building with a facade made entirely of recycled aluminium. It is the first of its kind in Germany and I hope this project can help lead the way and inspire other architects to use this sustainable material,” says Bernd Muley of Hadi Teherani Architects.

The material they chose for the facade of Mercator One is Hydro CIRCAL 75R, which consists of a minimum of 75% recycled end-of-life aluminium. This could be aluminium from demolished building projects, food and drink containers or even cars. Material that has been a product used by a consumer before and put back into the cycle.

Muley is a Senior Architect at Hadi Teherani Architects, whose work is characterized by a holistic urban approach and top class design. Their projects carry sustainability evaluation standards such as “Green Building” and green building certifications such as DGNB, LEED and BREAAM.

A consideration for longevity is the foundation upon which their buildings are designed. They are especially known for landmark buildings such as the office buildings The Dancing Towers, the Dockland Building and the Berliner Bogen in Hamburg, the Zayed University and the hotel and residential building The Oyster in Abu Dhabi, the Twin Towers in Dubai and the luxury residential tower Lodha Altamount in India.

Cradle to Cradle

“I have always cared a lot about the environmental aspect,” says Muley, who has worked at Hadi Teherani Architects for 20 years.

“I have the Cradle to Cradle (C2C) principle in mind when I work, which means that when I choose materials for a building I think of – in addition to the architectural aspects – where the material comes from, how efficiently it is produced and what happens to the material after the lifetime of that specific building. Recycled aluminium is great in this regard. It is one of the best solutions at the moment when building a facade, as it is highly recyclable and can be used again and again,” says Muley.

The Cradle to Cradle principle can be defined as a design and production process that is sustainable, where nothing goes to waste. Towards the end of the product’s life span, it can be recycled or returned to the earth completely safe, nontoxic and biodegradable. C2C methodology builds on the concept that “waste = food,” meaning that the materials can be used again in a new product cycle.

“At Hadi Teherani Architects, we always try to fit those ideas into our buildings, and as more people in the industry do, buildings will eventually improve their sustainable performance. Creating aluminium requires a lot of energy, but its lifespan can be long, if recycled several times,” Muley says.  

“I also try to find materials that can be used in their purest form, so that we know what they consist of. Materials such as wood, stone, concrete, steel, glass and aluminium are great, and when choosing a pure mix of them for a complete concept it gives a more radical appearance. The exclusion of composite materials also helps when separating materials at the end of the life cycle of a building,” says Muley.

“Recycled aluminium has the same strength as new, is easy to maintain and highly sustainable, and requires only 5% of the energy which is used for the production of new aluminium.”

On site during building process Mercator One.jpg
ON SITE: During the building process at Mercator One in Duisburg, Germany, with Hadi Teherani.

Discovering new solutions

The decision to use recycled aluminium came about after Muley had a chance meeting with Peter Hemmert and Thomas Staiger from Hydro during the Bau Fair in Munich, the world’s leading trade fair for architecture and building industries, in January 2019. They started talking and shared ideas about buildings and facades. Muley was in the process of developing the construction plans for Mercator One at that time, and Hemmert explained the qualities of their new material Hydro CIRCAL 75R.

“This is why it is important to meet others in the industry – we discover new solutions. This material is both sustainable and easy to maintain,” says Muley.

He based his decision on several aspects: Does the recycled material have the same quality as the newly produced one? Could they deliver the material in time? Does it have a competitive price point? Would the facade builder approve? And would he get his client onboard?

“When all these criteria were met and the client and the builders were onboard, I was ready to go for it. Now the building is nearly finished, and it looks just the same as if we had used brand new aluminium. The process and support from Hydro has been great. There is an unused potential for using recycled aluminium, especially in office buildings or high-rises.”

Building with Aluminium systems.jpg
LEADING THE WAY: Aluminum is strong, flexible and lightweight. It can be shaped in endless ways, and was chosen for this façade. “We work on big projects for important clients, and we receive a lot of interest in our projects., Therefore, it’s our responsibility to always do things better,” says Senior Architect Bernd Muley.

Great responsibility

“Our office has existed for almost 30 years, and from the beginning we have been interested in improving the way we build and always look for sustainable and green solutions. We work on big projects for important clients, and we receive a lot of interest in our projects. Therefore, it’s our responsibility to always do things better,” says Muley, who is a certified auditor through the German Sustainable Building Council (DGNB). DGNB is one of Europe’s biggest networks for sustainable building, with an aim to promote climate friendly change in the building and property market.

“Every day we should ask ourselves: What can we do better? In our case, we can improve the way we build!”

Trustworthy information

How can you find trustworthy information on a product’s environmental impact?

It is challenging to find trustworthy and accurate information on the environmental impact of a material or a product, but it is not impossible. Here are some ideas to help you find what you need, quickly.

Like you, other architects and construction engineers and industrial designers want to find solutions that reduce the environmental impact of their products or buildings. As an example, the building industry uses a tremendous amount of raw materials that also involve high energy consumption to produce. How do you come up with a more sustainable building? Finding a better way to construct the building is one thing – your thing – but how do you find the best building materials, based upon data that you can trust?

An increasing number of green building rating systems like BREEAM, LEED and DGNB are evolving to integrate measures to reduce GHG emissions during the full life cycle, to evaluate and understand the emissions of materials and the construction phase, to reduce waste and to value recyclable materials. This is also why most of these systems are now making use of Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) to assess the footprint of buildings during their full life cycle. I see these rating systems evolving to increase verification and rigor in those aspects.

Life Cycle Assessments take into account all emissions and energy consumptions for each and every step in the life cycle of a building or a product. An LCA gives you the total environmental impact. Now you could calculate this by using average data assembled for a certain raw material or product in a certain region of the world. But you would still not be any closer in finding the best choice, because the data would be too inexact and too general to really make a difference.

There is another easier way that is better.

Independently verified and registered EPDs

An Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) is an independently verified and registered document that communicates transparent and comparable information about the life-cycle environmental impact of products. An EPD is a so-called Type III environmental declaration in accordance with ISO 14025, and it was developed out of an increasingly widespread demand from customer to supplier to have a standard of comparison between different products.

EPDs show the most significant environmental aspects of a particular type of product, without going into value which is more or less sustainable, but showing an objective and verifiable information about the environmental problems of the product/service it provides.

EPDs give you the environmental impact of the material from these perspectives:

  • GWP – Global warming potential
  • ODP – Depletion potential of the stratospheric ozone layer
  • POCP – Formation potential of tropospheric photochemical oxidants
  • AP – Acidification potential of land and water
  • EP – Eutrophication potential
  • ADPM – Abiotic depletion potential for non-fossil resources
  • ADPE – Abiotic depletion potential for fossil resources

The first one, GWP, is expressed in kg CO2 equivalents per kg of the product – or selected “functional unit.” This is the one most in focus today, but looking forward, the other values could become more important.

You can also find out what happens with the product at the end of its useful life, for example when the building is torn down and you sort all the materials. An EPD shows you how much can be sorted and recycled and subsequently and turned into new products.

Reducing the environmental footprint with the right aluminium

One way of reducing the footprint is using renewable energy for material production and another is using as much recycled end-of-life materials as possible. In both cases, aluminium offers a positive story.

Aluminium is used in buildings because its properties, such as low weight, formability and corrosion resistance, are well-suited for doors and windows and facades. And it is fully recyclable. Already today, the vast majority of aluminium in use is recovered and turned back into new products.

But producing virgin aluminium is energy-intensive, right? Big footprint? This is particularly important when it comes to buildings, as they are made to last for decades and hence it takes a long time before the material can be recycled and sent back into the loop.

Stop for a second.

There are always better options if you know where to find them. In this case, the footprint depends on how and where aluminium is produced, and there are vast differences out there. If you really want to find them.

metal shavings

Low-carbon CIRCAL and REDUXA aluminium

I will name just two of the innovative aluminium products out in the market that can help you reach your sustainability goals.

One is Hydro REDUXA, which is low-carbon primary aluminium based on renewable energy. It has a maximum of 4.0 kg CO2-equivalent per kg aluminium. This is less than one-fourth of the global average.

The other is Hydro CIRCAL, which is based on a high amount of post-consumer scrap – aluminium that has already been used in other products and scrapped, like a window frame.

Both of the aluminium products are verified by EPDs.

How do you find EPDs?

Let me finish what I started: How do you find what you need, quickly, in terms of trustworthy data?

If you do want to look for comparisons of products, using independently verified EPDs as your tool, then you can find them easily in common databases such as Ökobaudat, GABI, EPD Norge, InData Network and Environdec. The EPD is normally valid for three years, or five years for construction products.

And don’t forget that using products with EPDs will also allow building owners to help harvesting extra points in the BREEAM environmental certification systems.