Enormous emissions can be avoided by using bio-based building materials

Use of timber and other bio-based materials for construction is increasing.

One of Europe’s tallest timber buildings, with 21 floors, will be completed in Amsterdam by 2020.

It’s a development welcomed at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, where researchers are on a mission to encourage the use of bio-based building materials, instead of conventional materials which cause substantial carbon dioxide emissions.

Researchers at Wageningen have published a Bio-based Building Materials Catalogue.

They say the use of timber, and other bio-based materials such as fibreboards, building blocks, resins and roofing, is progressing steadily.

“In the production of conventional building materials such as cement, concrete and steel, enormous quantities amounts of carbon dioxide are released”, says Martien van den Oever, of Wageningen Food & Biobased Research.

The significant advantage of bio-based building materials is that they retain carbon dioxide. For sustainability’s sake, you could preserve existing buildings as long as possible, but for new developments, the authorities should set a good example.

“If the growth of wind and solar energy continues, and the use of biomass in the petrol tank remains limited, and we do not use virgin biomass to generate electricity, then sufficient bio-mass will remain to meet the growing demand of bio-based construction materials.”

However, the use of bio-based products overall remains small in Europe, according to van den Oever’s fellow Wageningen researchers, Greet Overbeek and Anne-Charlotte Hoes. They are involved in the three-year Horizon 2020 Biovoices project.

According to Overbeek, the share of bio-based products is so modest because citizens and governments are hardly involved as potential users.

She says many biobased products have only recently become available, and have teething troubles. “For example, the fraction of bio-based insulation materials in Europe is only 4%.”

Such materials include flax, straw, recycled cotton, wood chips, and hemp. Overbeek says: “In the Netherlands, insulation material currently consists mainly of plastic, which has little moisture, and is not breathable. All those natural fibres, on the other hand, breathe and have a higher moisture content. If a quality mark refers to the moisture content of insulation material, such natural fibre is immediately put aside in favour of plastic.

“The natural fibre boards must also be slightly thicker. The result is that these fibres are now mainly used for new construction and major renovations, for example a detached house that is already turned upside down, and not for small renovations of a terraced house.

“These are typical problems that arise in the Netherlands where large contractors dominate the housing market.

The higher price also hinders the use of natural insulation materials, says Overbeek

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