Open Innovation Challenge Encourages A Rethink of the Way Buildings are Constructed

Published Feb-22-20

Novel approaches to reducing CO2 emissions when homes are designed and built.

LafargeHolcim, Switzerland

The Story:

Open Innovation Challenge Encourages A Rethink of the Way Buildings are Constructed Global carbon dioxide emissions will increase by 43% by 2035 if major nations continue a business-as-usual approach, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

Carbon emissions associated with the construction industry make up a significant percentage of the global carbon footprint. They include the carbon dioxide generated during building processes and the transportation of materials. Reducing the construction sector's carbon footprint requires mitigation efforts on several fronts.


To encourage ingenuity in this area, a Swiss manufacturer of building materials, LafargeHolcim, launched the Zero Carbon Hack, a global open innovation challenge to discover the most sustainable use of concrete. The most widely used construction material in the world is responsible for up to 10% of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions.

Teams of architects, designers, students, civil engineers and others were invited to find new ways to minimize embodied carbon (all the CO2 emitted as a result of producing materials for a building) of a reference home. This was a real residential building design proposed for construction in Switzerland.

During the three-day event, Dr. John Orr, a Lecturer in Concrete Structures from the UK's Cambridge University inspired participants with a short presentation on why he believes up to 50% of building materials could be reduced in construction with better design.

Open Innovation Winners

The winners were Team Mojito, who developed several approaches that cut CO2 emissions by 45% compared to the reference building. Among them were:

1) The use of LC3 cement (limestone calcined clay cement). This is a low-carbon cement that can reduce CO2 emissions related to manufacturing by as much as 30% as compared to Portland Cement, the most common type. Its components include clinker, calcined clay, limestone and gypsum.

2) A lightweight thin-shell fault system instead of flat slab construction, which uses expensive materials.
3) An onsite prefabrication method using sand molds and robotic assembly. This would minimize transport and enable mass production of the fault system.

"The hackathon was a great opportunity to explore what current practice in design geometries, material selection and innovative concrete technologies enables us to do as engineers to minimize embodied CO2," said Jess Forsdyke, a member of Team Mojito.

"Working alongside other disciplines, such as architects and business specialists, also gave insight into the challenges faced by the various stakeholders in a real design scenario."

Next Steps

Team Mojito won 5,000 euros ($USD approx. 5,600) and six months of development with Lafarge to further pursue their ideas.

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