Sustainable Structures, Materials, and Construction Research Group

Our research

Head of research group: Dario Parigi

Societal challenges

The construction sector is currently experiencing increasing pressure to minimize the environmental impact, related to material scarcity and global warming. It is responsible for 11% of all carbon emissions in the world through embodied carbon emissions- the energy and emissions from materials and construction. Structures alone can account for more than 50% of the embodied carbon in buildings depending on the building type, height and structural material. The Sustainable Structures, Constructions and Materials Research Group (SUSTAIN) wants to find solutions to these challenges. 

The need for new knowledge

Life cycle analysis in buildings accounts for the operational energy on one hand and embodied energy from materials and construction processes on the other one. Improved operational energy efficiency has increased the percentage by which embodied energy impact the total life cycle of building structures; despite a growing interest in this field, practitioners lack a broad insight of embodied energy in buildings and how it´s possible to reduce it. A minimization of these emissions requires innovative solutions in the approach to design, construction processes and materials.

Therefore, there is a pressing need to investigate innovative solutions in design, modelling, construction and monitoring of structures, leading to e.g. reduced material use, reuse of material and structural elements, new efficient concepts or extended lifetime of buildings and infrastructures.

Research efforts

The reduction of embodied energy in a structural system can take many forms, which may involve different competence areas and detail level simultaneously, and include, but are not limited to, the following: 

  • Material saving strategies allow minimizing the environmental footprint and at the same time to tackle issues related to material scarcity and supply.
  • Construction and process related strategies to minimize resources in transportation, assembly, and disassembly.
  • Structural Health Monitoring, retrofitting, design strategies for flexible, adaptable buildings allows extending the lifetime of buildings, improve their performance, and extend their lifetime.

Modelling of structural behaviour, material modelling and testing is the backbone of the activities. Finite Element is the dominating numerical tool that can handle linear as well as non-linear problems. Advanced numerical models and parametric models enable optimization of the material layout e.g. reinforcement in concrete, layout in composite structures such as wind turbine blades, or the optimization of the form of structural elements (computational morphogenesis). Life-Cycle analysis (LCA) is applied and investigated to support adoption of better practices in the industry.

Collaboration

SUSTAIN aims at establishing cross-organizational collaboration within the department, and at strengthening international collaborations with Universities. In particular the areas in which for collaboration are building management, building physics, risk and safety and sustainability of Buildings. SUSTAIN is furthermore establishing collaboration with the industry and authorities for the development of guidelines for buildings and infrastructures.

Research focus

  • Load bearing capacity of structures
  • Innovative materials
  • Circular construction (upcycling, design for disassembly)
  • Minimization of material use in structures
  • Serviceability of lightweight structures (vibration problems in buildings)
  • Extending lifetime of existing buildings (strengthening systems / Structural Health Monitoring )
  • Design of buildings with flexibility and adaptivity
  • Development of design tools for improved Life – Cycle performance