The concerns about effects of climate change are both serious and urgent. With a growing world population and a consequent increasing use of engineered materials, the need for a new approach to maximise the value of raw materials by keeping buildings, infrastructure, resources and materials in use for as long as possible is clear.
In collaboration with industry colleagues from across Europe, a new publication ‘Galvanized Steel and Sustainable Construction: Solutions for a Circular Economy’ explains how the galvanizing industry is moving forwards – keeping galvanized steel at the forefront of solutions for tackling climate change and delivering the circular economy that is now firmly established in both policy and practice.
The publication draws on academic research and examples of best practice from across Europe. It explains clearly how galvanized steel can help the construction sector adapt to a net zero future.
Construction in the Circular Economy
Traditional sustainability frameworks reliant upon linear models and recycling have, in recent years, given ground to ideas on circular materials and the circular economy.
A circular economy differs from a traditional linear economic framework in that it is designed to keep products and materials in use, thereby eliminating waste and allowing natural systems to regenerate. In appreciating the value of raw materials and keeping buildings, infrastructure and resources in use for as long as possible, a circular construction model manages growing global demand in the face of low carbon goals.
The construction sector is a priority for a circular economy because, based on a building’s full life cycle it is responsible for:
- 50% of extracted material
- 50% of total energy consumption
- 33% of water use
- 35% of waste generation
In its simplest form circular construction means thinking, from the outset, about how to design a building to keep it in use for as long as possible and to be able to dismantle easily its components at the end of the building’s lifetime in order to reuse them.
Why Galvanized Steel?
Recognition that the concept of a circular economy is fundamental to optimising the sustainability of materials has brought the simplicity, robustness, durability and inherent recyclability of metal structures and components to the forefront of sustainable design. Hot dip galvanized steel perfectly illustrates this:
- Hot dip galvanizing of steel products after fabrication delivers the highest levels of corrosion protection – the steel structure or component will often achieve its design life with no maintenance.
- A galvanized coating is inherently climate resilient as its protective ability is largely unaffected by changes in temperature and other climatic factors.
- The galvanized coating can follow the steel structure through multiple cycles of reuse.
- Galvanized coatings are bonded to the steel – allowing the steel product to be reused along with the original coating without need for recoating (i.e., scaffolding poles that are repeatedly assembled and disassembled around our buildings).
- Galvanized steel components that have reached the end of their design life, or are uninstalled for any other reason, can be regalvanized and returned to the original use.
- If the reuse cycles come to an end, both steel and zinc are recycled together in the well-established steel recycling processes with the zinc being returned, without loss of properties, to zinc production plants and eventually back into the galvanizing process.
If a material system was specially designed for the circular economy, hot dip galvanizing would be an excellent example. But, it is here today and has been following these principles for decades.
This is the first in a series of articles on the role of galvanized steel within a circular framework for construction.
Image: Stephen Wright