Sequestering Carbon in the Built Environment

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Using timber bamboo to deliver a customized, code-compliant wall system that is redefining the low-rise built environment. (Image: BamCore)
Using timber bamboo to deliver a customized, code-compliant wall system that is redefining the low-rise built environment. (Image: BamCore)

Carbon sequestration is a critical component to mitigate climate change. Where technology innovations to capture carbon fall short, traditional techniques can help.
 
BamCore is harnessing the power of timber bamboo and industrialized construction techniques to decarbonize the built environment. Each project can become a perpetual carbon farm by storing carbon from every harvest into durable harvested wood products. By extension, the faster or more frequently bamboo is harvested, the more carbon can be farmed from the atmosphere, and the more carbon can be stored in durable harvested wood products. Hal Hinkle (CEO) and Zack Zimmerman (CRO) discussed how BamCore innovates materials in the built environment.

What problem is BamCore trying to solve? How are you solving the problem?

There are three chronic issues with the built environment – carbon, costs, and labor. Carbon might be the biggest of them all, as the built environment is responsible for 40% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
 
BamCore is helping solve the carbon problem by introducing a green and sustainable substrate that we use in our panels, specifically timber, bamboo, and other fast-growing structural woods, which helps reduce the embodied carbon of a building by 40%. BamCore’s framing solution, called the Prime Wall, also gives more space to put insulation in walls, which reduces the energy needed to heat or cool a building and makes for a quieter building.
 
From the cost and labor perspective, BamCore products are prefabricated, resulting in time/labor savings because it takes less time and fewer skilled laborers to build/install. The prefabricated materials also come in a flat pack, which means no waste on construction sites. As a result, there is an overall cost saving between 5-10% when you look at the entire budget of other buildings. 

How are you thinking about and quantifying impact metrics?

BamCore’s last life cycle analysis pointed to 223 metric tons of carbon dioxide saved when substituting a BamCore framing system for a traditional framing system, equating to a 42% reduction. That’s overall, so that’s including operating savings over the life of the building calculated at 70 years and the embodied carbon incorporate during initial construction. Also, a team of researchers at BamCore wrote a white paper showing that the bamboo species that BamCore uses sequesters between 500% to 600% more carbon dioxide than typical materials. The other way we are looking at impact is that BamCore can reduce the energy required to heat a 1,100 square foot unit by between 25-50%.
 
One thing to note is that normally people say that you want to reduce the embodied carbon due to manufacturing. So you want buildings to have less “embodied” carbon unless the carbon results from a biogenic sequestration process – a natural process that takes the carbon out of the air. And that’s what bamboo does faster than any other plant on land on the planet. 

How is BamCore compared to other technologies in the market today?

We combine changes in material and methodologies. There’s an interaction between the two because we are choosing new materials that are stronger and biogenic; we are also innovating on the methodology side.
 
BamCore differentiates itself by using bamboo’s fast-growing biogenic structural fiber, compared to other materials that are more focused on eliminating emissions from manufacturing. We compete against methodologies that try to save time or labor, e.g., prefab stick frame walls or modular buildings. Instead, we use panels fabricated as a kit-of-parts because it is simpler, faster, and cheaper. The other advantage that BamCore brings is enabling higher heating and cooling efficiencies – essentially downsizing HVAC systems or reducing the number of heat pumps needed. 
 
Success for the market is bringing new structural, biogenic fibers into the built world. Today, BamCore is the first mover doing this, but others are also looking at the opportunity. 

What is driving the market?

One of the biggest challenges the industry faces is that there is not enough housing. In California alone, we are well over 1 million units short and, according to New York, we are 6.5 million short nationwide. 
 
Another value proposition is that affordable multi-family developers are forced by policy to build increasingly thermally efficient and higher quality. And to add to that, many professional organizations are recognizing the need for net-zero. Every material input must be better performing and have a reduced footprint. The unfortunate thing is that developers need to accomplish this with the same budget. 
 
These two factors are accelerating innovation and alternative materials into the market.

Outlook

Buildings generate nearly 40% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions. On top of that, roughly two-thirds of the building area that exists today will still exist in 2050. Meanwhile, we can’t necessarily reverse the impact of embodied carbon on the planet; technologies that improve current construction methods can both mitigate the impact and make the construction greener. The catch is that only 0.5-1% of the buildings today will be renovated –new technologies can primarily be used for new construction.

About The Author

Daniel Kriozere

Daniel Kriozere

Co-Founder at The Impact

Daniel currently works at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. His original assignment was to maintain and update facility safety documentation for all facilities on-site, and perform risk analysis. Over time, his role has expanded to leading continuous improvement efforts through product management.

Concurrently, Daniel volunteers with Techstars, helping organize startup weekends, and with the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, organizing events on the local and national levels of the organization. He also volunteers with One World, and previously with Powerhouse Ventures, to source and screen startups for potential investment.

Daniel holds a BS in Chemical Engineering from UC Davis, and recently completed coursework in energy innovation from Stanford. His passion is at the intersection of sustainability, innovation, and business.

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