Creating steel buildings structures with up to 40% less embodied carbon is a phenomenal achievement, and one that Donovan Group is proud to own. We talked with Director Gavin Tonnet to understand more about how Donovan Group has worked with Building 4.0 and Monash University to verify this figure, the carbon journey so far, and his huge optimism for the future.
Gavin Tonnet explains: “Historically the steel industry has been a big gobbler of carbon. In recent years the global industry has had a rapid change in mindset and are now stepping through different ways of manufacturing steel to find incremental ways to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint. This can’t happen overnight and has significant challenges to overcome.”
He says that in current times the most advanced decarbonisation steel manufacturing pilot projects in the world have achieved CO2 reductions of approximately 20% – a figure that in some projects Donovan Group is able to better by double as a baseline. “With the introduction of ‘green steel’ in the future, our impact gets exponentially better.”
Because of this phenomenal success, Donovan Group was co-opted to take part in Building 4.0 CRC. This is an industry-led research initiative that sought to bring the Australian government, industry, and academic knowledge together to lead major improvements in construction. It aimed to deliver reductions in greenhouse gasses, better buildings to live and work in, and more high value employment.
Gavin says that Donovan Group’s motivation for taking part was threefold:
“The first was to search for and participate in the transformation. We can do it ourselves, but we wanted to contribute to and partner with the bigger movement. The second one was carbon reduction: articulating and accelerating what our products can deliver.
The third, he says, is about the potential to do more. There is more we can do in the realm of circular economies. Continually using less, and reusing more, of the world’s precious resources.”
He explains that currently, a building is essentially single use – much like a plastic bag. Patched through its life and then, at the end of its life, pulled apart and the material is wasted if it cannot be reused or recycled.
He sees an opportunity to increase the amount of building components that can be re-used, much like the children’s toy Meccano, which is simple, fast efficient, and easy to manufacture.
“Eventually it will be easy to disassemble a building and reassemble it somewhere else, with adaption for its new site and use. It will come with regulation, but it will happen as we look for different ways to reduce impact.”
Bigger developers seek to develop buildings on a net-zero basis, but only have one tool to do this, carbon credits, which eat into profits, which gets passed to the consumer impacting affordability. This is a great motivator for the industry the world over to reduce its carbon footprint – but Europe, so far, is doing the best at recognising the opportunities in the circular economy.
There are now 80 industry partners in the seven year Building 4.0 CRC (Co-operative Research Centre) program through Monash University – and surprisingly given the significant impact the industry has on the world’s carbon consumption, it’s the first time the property industry has taken part in one of these government-funded research programs.
“I think the way we put buildings together in the future will be more fun and exciting. We can leave the industry a legacy, through the way we use technology and put buildings together virtually, optimising and exploring them with digital twins, and making sure they are fit for purpose. We are looking to Europe, and we’d like to work with regulators and policy makers to be part of the lead group, to show that industry can adapt and change and help to create good policy.”