The role of biobased building materials in the climate impacts of construction Effects of increased use of biobased materials in the Swedish building sector

University dissertation from Stockholm, Sweden : KTH Royal Institute of Technology

Abstract: A significant share of the global climate change impacts can be attributed to the construction sector. One mitigation strategy is increasing the use of biobased materials. Life cycle assessment (LCA) has been used to demonstrate the benefits of this, but forest complexities create uncertainty due to omission of key aspects. This aim of this thesis is to enhance understanding of the effects of increasing use of biobased materials in climate change mitigation of construction works with a life cycle perspective. Non-traditional LCA methodology aspects were identified and the climate impact effects of increasing the use of biobased materials while accounting for these was studied. The method applied was dynamic LCA combined with forest carbon data under multi-approach scenarios. Diverse case studies (a building, a small road bridge and the Swedish building stock) were used. Most scenarios result in impact reductions from increasing the use of biobased materials in construction. The inclusion of non-traditional aspects affected the results, but not this outcome. Results show that the climate mitigation potential is maximized by simultaneously implementing other strategies (such as increased use of low-impact concrete). Biobased building materials should not be generalised as climate neutral because it depends on case-sensitive factors. Some of these factors depend on the modelling of the forest system (timing of tree growth, spatial level approach, forest land use baseline) or LCA modelling parameters (choice of the time horizon, end-of-life assumptions, service life). To decrease uncertainty, it is recommended to use at least one metric that allows assessment of emissions based on their timing and to use long-term time horizons. Practitioners should clearly state if and how non-traditional aspects are handled, and study several methodological settings. Technological changes should be accounted for when studying long-term climate impacts of building stocks.