Silhouettes of construction workers and cranes at a building site against an orange sunset sky. Photo by Shivendu Shukla on Unsplash


Project Value: £6 million
Funders: Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

Researchers at the Tyndall Centre and the University of Sheffield are set to explore the extent to which the circular economy could meet the UK’s building needs using zero new material extractions, zero emissions and zero waste. 

BuildZero, a new £6 million project funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), will develop a detailed vision of more sustainable building practices, through a five year project led by Sheffield in partnership with the University of Bath, The University of Manchester, Cardiff University, the University of Cambridge and industrial collaborators.

Buildings and infrastructure are responsible for over 40 per cent of the UK’s carbon emissions, produce over 60 per cent of the UK’s waste, and consume approximately 50 per cent of all extracted materials globally. In order to decarbonise construction, significant changes are required.

The circular economy is a widely-recognised opportunity to reduce both resource consumption and carbon emissions. In a circular economy, materials are kept at the highest value possible, for example retrofitting buildings and repurposing buildings to extend their lifespans.

In the past, circular economy examples for the building sector have mostly focused on case studies of individual buildings or recycling of individual materials, which misses the opportunity for making changes to the wider system. BuildZero aims to present a larger-scale, systems-level approach to making changes in the construction sector.

The BuildZero project will consider the options for developing methods for building without extracting new resources, eliminating waste and reducing carbon emissions from material extraction and production. The project will assess the extent to which the vision for a circular economy is achievable at regional and national level, and will provide a platform for demonstrating these solutions at scale.

The research will use methods from across several disciplines, including architecture, structural engineering, materials science and social sciences to understand the existing building stock, resource and waste flows, social attitudes and economics surrounding potential circular economy business models for the construction sector.

The research programme will culminate in a range of demonstrator projects, interactive tools, detailed strategies and ultimately a series of pathways to achieve the BuildZero vision of a UK building stock with zero new raw material extraction, zero emissions and zero waste.

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