Sustainable Materials

Sustainable materials reduce impact on the environment and provide a long term durable solution for the built environment. Our researchers within this theme cover a broad range of issues associated with sustainable materials, ranging from technical (carbon fibre reinforced cement; lime mortars) to socio-technical and economic (life cycle analysis; supply chain and specification).

The environmental and social impact of material use is recognised across the construction industry. As the industry moves towards designing zero carbon buildings, increasing attention is paid to the materials used in the construction of buildings and civil engineering work.

Research activities within the theme include: the reduction of carbon emissions in the delivery and maintenance of new and historic buildings; the selection of materials and components for low carbon building; traditional low energy materials (lime, earth); construction technology for ‘green' buildings; the impact of CO2 in maintenance interventions and approaches to repair of existing buildings; and monitoring and characterisation of civil engineering materials both at the micro and macro scale including concrete durability. Work has also been done on the impact of climate change (flooding and increased rainfall) on traditionally built structures, investigating deteriological mechanisms in structure and fabric.

Whilst innovation in sustainable materials and technology are indeed at the heart of an emerging UK research agenda, this is also balanced with an emphasis on exploring the implementation of such innovation within the marketplace and the extent to which newly developed sustainable materials and technology can be adopted by the market through designers and specifiers in the UK construction sector. Similarly this also explores whether calls for innovative materials and technology are demand- or supply-driven. The research theme ‘sustainable materials' therefore draws on the need to explore more widely issues such as sustainable supply chains, legislation, resistance to change and the process of change.

Case study

An Assessment of Binder Leaching in Traditional Mortars for Mass Masonry

(Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) & Historic Scotland)

Future climate models for northern regions predict more instances of heavy rainfall, resulting in the materials used becoming saturated for extended periods. The effect of long term saturation on the physical properties and performance of lime mortar (one of a number of low carbon alternative binders) has been evaluated by studying the alteration in mechanical strength and moisture handling characteristics of the materials.

This project can be seen within a broader research context of the performance of traditional and low carbon building materials and building resilience to climate change. Specific recent projects have included the Life Cycle Energy assessment of low and zero carbon technologies; and use of recycled materials and waste minimisation in the design and procurement process. 

Contributing staff

  • Professor Phil Banfill
  • Professor John McCarter
  • Dr Alan Forster
  • Dr Gill Menzies