The air we breathe may look clear but it also can be filled with invisible gases known as volatile organic compounds (or VOCs). Not only can these have a direct negative effect on our health but they are also an important contributor to global warming through the effect on the composition of our earth’s atmosphere. VOCs come from a multitude of sources – one example is as a by-product of painting and coating operations.
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Why this is important for ArcelorMittal
The world needs a low-carbon, more sustainable future. A key part of this will be high-quality infrastructure and modern, energy-efficient buildings. Steel can help: it’s strong, flexible, durable, and can be infinitely recycled with no loss of quality.
Increasing pressure for green and ‘healthy’ building credentials
The green credentials of buildings are in the spotlight as never before. Certification schemes like BREEAM and LEED evaluate just how sustainable a building is, from its energy and water use, to the recyclability of its materials, and from the design stage right through to refurbishment or demolition. Governments and municipalities are supporting the same agenda by offering tax breaks and incentives for sustainable development and construction, and many companies include these criteria when looking for new space to rent or buy.
The health impacts of building products for those who live, work and learn in them are also rising up the agenda, with the emergence of Health Product Declarations in Europe.
The advantages of steel
We see these developments as a huge commercial opportunity for our industry. We are supplying and developing high-quality components that help buildings save energy, and thereby CO2 emissions, both in construction and in use. And if the value chain is assessed in its entirety, the more advantages steel has: if buildings’ carbon emissions are assessed right through to the demolition phase, steel does increasingly well, given its outstanding recyclability.
With the renaissance in modular building design in recent years, these benefits can be extended further. Modular buildings are not only quick to erect and so a cost-effective approach to construction, but the component parts can be dismantled and re-used, which could mean enormous CO2 emissions savings. This circular thinking has encouraged architects to look at the sustainability benefits of the modular approach to building design and they are finding that steel is ideally suited for this. Modular design is now being used in everything from holiday homes, to schools, offices, and even skyscrapers.
The commercial potential of circular thinking lies not only in product design but the business model. Where a component can be re-used, it can be leased – and this is far more viable where its use is short-term. Leasing can reduce the upfront costs for customers, and guarantee the full environmental benefits of re-use at the end of the component’s initial life.
As for outcome 2, this outcome is sponsored at group level by Greg Ludkovsky, our vice president for global R&D.
We talk elsewhere about lifecycle analysis, or LCA, and how important it is in making an objective assessment of the true sustainability of a material like steel. This approach is now integral to international accreditation standards such as ISO14040/44, and it’s a requirement of the EU’s Environmental Product Declarations, or EPDs, for construction products. In recent years, we’ve developed a real expertise in this highly technical field, and our team has completed over 50 separate studies across our construction, automotive, packaging and industrial products, as well as assessing our own production processes. Three more of these were completed in 2015 including a solar roofing pilot from our Phoster R&D project. The other two are outlined below.
First certified LCA study in North America
The EPD we completed for roll-formed steel cladding, roofing and flooring panels was the first in the North American construction market. We were the first steel company in the region to obtain third-party certification for an LCA study and this will be available to architects and designers looking to improve the sustainability credentials of their buildings through LEED v4 certification. This latest version of LEED raises the bar significantly in terms of a building’s environmental performance. Having done the LCA study helps us get ahead of the curve. Several other ArcelorMittal construction products, such as Solar Wall® and our insulated steel panels, will qualify for additional LEED v4 credits.
New LCA tool for buildings
Our Steel in Modern Construction initiative employs the principle of lifecycle thinking across our whole portfolio of building products. In 2015, our global R&D team developed this new tool to assess the sustainability impacts of these products over the whole life of a building, scoring each against 16 social, environmental and economic indicators. We used it for the first time on an office building developed to European standards. New products will be added to the tool as they’re introduced, including the steels developed in the Phoster project for use in solar power, and Magnelis® a metallic coating that provides superior resistance to corrosion. We’ll start using the tool more widely in 2016.
The steel we use in construction products like roofing and facades is enhanced with a combination of metallic and organic coatings. This gives long-lasting protection from environmental corrosion, while also looking attractive. We can save our customers time, energy and money by applying these coatings ourselves, and that also gives us the opportunity to improve the products’ sustainability credentials at the same time.
Last year we launched the Granite® Quartz range of steel panels for building facades, and Estetic® Bio Air products for ceilings, internal panels, and doors, as part of our Nature range of steels for construction. Estetic® Bio Air uses coatings which are free of chromates and heavy metals, and are derived only from plant-based resin, which means they don’t emit volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which can be harmful to health. We want to take this technique further, and apply it to a new generation of low-VOC coated products for use in both the construction and appliance industries.
During 2015, we worked on both domestic and commercial modular buildings.
New modular ‘b home’ in Spain
One of these is the ‘b home’ system, in which we collaborated with Baragaño, a Spanish architect, who developed the design. We now have the first b home on our R&D site in Asturias, Spain. The units are made as steel modules at our production site in Aviles, then assembled on-site into homes or offices, thus reducing waste, speeding up construction times, and avoiding some of the health and safety risks usually associated with building work. The units are highly energy-efficient, and their design means the entire building can be picked up and moved with virtually no negative environmental impact. They also meet all the demands of Spain’s Technical Building Code.
Modular skyscraper in China
We also played a part in the record-breaking modular construction of a 57-storey skyscraper in just 19 days, in Changsha, China. Using a modular construction technique based on a central ‘tree’, 90% of the skyscraper was built with prefabricated sections.
We supplied over 10,000 tonnes of high-strength HISTAR® steel beams, and also helped the construction company determine the quickest, safest and most efficient method of construction. The building will provide 800 apartments and office space for 4,000 people. And, if there’s ever a need to take it down, it will be almost as quick and easy to do so as putting it up, while all the steel parts can be re-used.
This innovative approach won the building company a Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat Innovation Award.