No bricks, the walls and foundations made of compacted earth, cement made from clay and glass scavenged from demolition skips are just some of the construction changes needed to comply with Net Zero by 2050. The latest paper from Government-funded U.K. FIRES looks to “minimise new construction”, and notes the shape of the urban environment will change, allowing for “denser living and reduced transport needs”.
The latest U.K. FIRES paper seems to have slipped out quietly at the end of last year and has to date attracted little publicity. But the group, which comprises a number of academics led by Cambridge engineering professor Julian Allwood, made headlines around the world recently with previous work noting that all flying and shipping must stop by 2050, beef and lamb must be banned, and only 60% of energy will be available to cook food and heat homes. The group, which receives £5 million from Government sources, is interesting because it bases its recommendations on the brutal, and many would argue honest, reality of absolute Net Zero. It does not assume that technological processes still to be perfected or even invented will somehow lead to minimal disturbance in comfortable industrialised lifestyles. It could be further argued that its continued existence and pronouncements are important, since they highlight the dishonesty and deceit that surrounds many other Net Zero promoters.
U.K. FIRES sees the future of construction based on stone, earth and timber, along with components “reused and repurposed” from demolition. Recycled steel, cement and bricks can be used, although this will be “constrained” – rationed might be a better word – by a supply of “non-emitting electricity under high demand”. Transformational construction changes will take longer to achieve, state the authors, but the U.K.’s ambitious target of a 45% reduction in emissions by 2030, “can only be achieved through reduced material demand”.
Building without bricks is an interesting suggestion and over two billion are currently produced each year. But bricks require high firing temperatures, and the enormous cost of Net Zero energy makes them uneconomic to produce. Cement also requires energy to make but it can be mixed with calcined clay. Nevertheless, calcined clay is also energy intensive and can only supplement 50% of Portland cement. “As a result, the mass low-cost consumption of concrete will no longer exist,” the authors note. Together, bricks and cement generate annual turnover of over £10 billion. Rammed earth, which can be used for foundation screeds and walls, is said to be a proven and potentially zero emission alternative, “which can utilise abundant local materials”.
Glass looks to be a complete no-no, with production requiring temperatures of 1,700°C and producing additional process emissions which cannot be avoided by electrification. Only recycled glass seems to be acceptable for the absolutist authors, so the need for complete circularity, “will somewhat constrain the supply of glass”. However, add the authors helpfully, this will “encourage direct re-use and reconditioning of glass panels from demolition sites”.
Steel is widely used in modern construction due to its large load-bearing properties. Around the world, recycled steel accounts for about a third of current production. To have zero emissions from producing steel relies on energy-intensive carbon capture and storage technology, which the authors observe, with their customary honesty, “is unlikely to be economical by 2050”. In the U.K., 85% of steel is already recycled, and it is explained that the Net Zero transition will heavily restrict its supply. Recycling of aluminium is said to be the “preferred zero emission compatible pathway”, and this will lead to “higher prices due to a restricted supply of the material”.
Timber is also constrained by carbon emission production processes, and sustainable supply is limited by forests unable to rapidly match increased demand. The construction industry accounts for a seventh of all plastics used in the U.K., but needless to say, there are problems. Although plastics play a vital part in insulating buildings – plastic doors and windows can be sealed much more effectively than wood – the authors note that they will become “increasingly constrained and expensive to produce”.
At times, your correspondent might be accused of exaggerating the effects of Net Zero, a collectivist political agenda increasingly divorced from the reality of modern living. But phrases such as “economic and societal breakdown”, and “mediaeval mud huts within 30 years”, would appear to be increasingly justified. Look at what is actually being said and done. In the Brecon Beacons, a new college called Black Mountains (BMC) is promoting its new climate breakdown university degree. One short course offered by this seat of learning is ‘Composting Toilets‘. This will serve as a “high quality exemplar” that will inform the design and building of some of the “potential future facilities on the BMC campus”.
As well as learning, this new college is obviously a seat of great easement as it moves effortlessly to a Net Zero future. The World Economic Forum says you will eat bugs and own nothing – to this might be added that you will crap into a hole in the ground, and, of course, be happy.
Chris Morrison is the Daily Sceptic’s Environment Editor.