By Jane Marsh
Artificial intelligence (AI) might have a bad reputation in popular media, but in recent years it’s become a valuable tool for data management and predictive analytics. In some applications, it could even help reduce construction emissions. What impact can AI have on the construction industry, and how can it help these projects reduce their carbon footprint?
In 2018, the global building and construction sector accounted for nearly 40 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions. Producing construction materials such as steel, cement, and glass accounted for 11 percent of that. Every step of the process, from creating and gathering materials to assembling a home or commercial property, contributes to this ever-growing carbon footprint.
The push toward a green and sustainable future has led to the global construction industry looking for new and innovative ways to reduce their carbon footprint and emissions. These actions have included using recycled materials, which could reduce emissions by 3 percent by 2050, using existing structures more efficiently and moving away from high-emission materials like those that rely on fossil fuels.
These are not short-term solutions. This trend toward more eco-friendly initiatives represents a fundamental shift in the entire construction industry—and that’s not even the most advanced or exciting option emerging from this shift to sustainability.
SIMULATIONS, PREDICTIVE ANALYTICS
One of the most frequently cited applications for the current generation of artificial intelligence programs is predictive analytics. Essentially, predictive analytics systems use collected data to make predictions and educated decisions based on a previous programmed set of criteria. They can also generate simulations that help city planners and engineers determine how a decision might affect a project’s results or what its long-term impact on city emissions levels could be.
The HS2 Rail Project will eventually cut travel times between cities like London and Manchester. Currently, engineers are using AI to automate their Building Information Modeling (BIM) processes to create various simulations.
These programs allow engineers to look at the same project built with numerous different materials. This, in turn, enables them to analyze the emissions and impacts of these decisions before they lay the first stretch of track down. This is a proactive approach to reducing construction emissions, where in more traditional processes, assessments would have to wait until after construction finished.
3D PRINTING, AI PARTICIPATION
Construction waste contributes to a project’s emissions in multiple ways, especially if leftover materials end up discarded and sent to the landfill. Everything adds to a project’s carbon footprint—the production stage, transportation, assembly, and eventually the trip to the landfill. Reducing waste is one of the easiest ways to lower the emissions released by a jobsite, but how can companies start employing this simple change?
Many companies are experimenting with and utilizing 3D printing on the jobsite. In most cases, these massive printers can complete the same job as a human worker with little to no waste, laying everything from bricks to concrete in a fraction of the time it would take a crew member. Pairing these devices with artificial intelligence can prevent even more waste, allowing the printers to make educated decisions based on a set of predetermined rules.
While AI-powered 3D printers may never fully replace skilled workers on a construction site, utilizing them alongside those teams can help slowly but surely reduce CO2 emissions without negatively impacting efficiency and productivity.
PROTECTING WATER RESOURCES
Water scarcity is a growing problem around the globe, and it has far-reaching impacts beyond being unable to turn on the tap or flush the toilet. Power stations in the United States use upward of 195 billion gallons of water a day to cool thermoelectric power plants around the country, with more water used to create steam for powering turbines.
Global water resources are so limited, with the entire planet’s population subsisting on just 1 percent of Earth’s available water, that everyone needs to do their part to protect them—including artificial intelligence.
AI can track everything from the amount of water used on a construction site at any given time to whether a building has a leak that is costing lots of money and wasting water. A single leak can cost a company or homeowner hundreds or thousands of dollars every year, in addition to the water wasted.
Water scarcity might seem like a random problem for the construction industry, but in many cases, everything is connected. One study found that water scarcity contributes to an increase in CO2 emissions and air pollution, increasing concentrations of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of possible applications for AI in the construction industry. These programs will continue to change and shape the sector’s environmental impact for many years ahead. Indeed, we look towards a greener future.
About the author:
Jane Marsh is an environmental and green technology writer who covers topics in sustainable construction and green building materials. She also works as the editor-in-chief of environment.co.
Modern Contractor Solutions, January 2021
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