Standardising carbon neutrality in delivery of complex projects


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The key research question in this project is:

  • Which combination of decarbonisation strategies offers the best trade-off between operational emissions, embodied emissions and cost?

The details

Both Australia and the UK have a legally binding commitment to achieve a 100% reduction in their carbon emissions by 2050. The scale and urgency of this challenge necessitates immediate action to decarbonise every sector of the economy.

The construction industry accounts for approximately a quarter of the global carbon emissions and is the largest consumer of materials and energy. Drastic transformational changes in the planning and delivery of construction projects can therefore have a significant impact on the extent of carbon emissions generated, aiding in the achievement of the 2050 Paris Agreement target.

One of the ways to decarbonise buildings, in particular, is to reduce energy demand through insulation. This has shifted the ratio of operational versus embodied energy towards a growing share of the latter. For low-energy buildings, embodied carbon accounts for up to 80% of the total building life-cycle footprint.

Although the significance of embodied carbon and the scale to which building materials contribute to embodied emissions in low-energy buildings has been highlighted in literature, there is still lacking evidence of an optimised solution that balances the operating energy decrease with embodied energy increase for these decarbonisation alternatives. There is also an inadequacy of methodologies that assess the trade-off between the building’s environmental performance and the cost implication of adopted decarbonisation strategies.

This research, therefore, seeks to examine the embodied emissions, operational energy emissions and cost of different building envelope insulation designs to develop a cost-decarbonisation framework for complex projects. This framework will communicate the trade-off between embodied and operational carbon emissions for different design options and provide an optimised solution to balance operational energy decrease with embodied energy increase to avoid burden shifting.

The outcomes of this research will provide policymakers with essential information and tools for quantifying and monitoring carbon emissions within complex projects. Consequently, this will inform coherent national development policies and encourage sustainable development in the management of projects, directly contributing to sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11) and the accomplishment of a carbon-free future globally.

Graduate researcher profile: Judy Too

Judy Too

What did you do before you started your PhD?

Before starting my PhD, I pursued a master’s programme in Engineering Project Management at the University of Manchester. My dissertation, together with other research studies that I was involved in sparked an interest in me to pursue further research. Prior to that, I worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) as an Assurance Associate where I supported clients in different sectors to deliver their external audit reports.

What are the challenges of your research role?

Working remotely as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has presented some challenges in data collection and tested my resilience as a researcher. I have learnt to adapt my research approach to the current situation and manage my time well to meet the milestones and deadlines of both institutions.

What is the best part of your research role?

Although the PhD journey is a challenging process, the potential of this research to make a real impact in society greatly motivates me. I am excited to contribute to addressing climate change, which is one of the most critical global challenges. I am also grateful to be a part of an international collaboration. I have gained a global perspective on problem solving and have been exposed to a variety of resources and networks that I would not have otherwise had.

Where do you wish to go after your PhD? Do you want to enter industry or continue doing more research?

I am driven by a passion to make a positive impact on the world around me. I hope to be able to get more opportunities to conduct impactful research.

Supervision team

First published on 17 November 2022.

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