Technologies underpinning sustainability in the GCC's construction industry
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Technologies underpinning sustainability in the GCC’s construction industry

Technologies underpinning sustainability in the GCC’s construction industry

The UAE is committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 and the construction sector is a vital part of this strategy

Technologies underpinning sustainability in the GCC's construction industry

In March 2022, the UAE launched a new set of green building codes that specify the standards, conditions, and requirements new construction must meet to mitigate its carbon footprint and reduce energy and water consumption.

The UAE’s Emirates Green Building Council (EmiratesGBC) reported a three-fold increase in the number of net-zero certification applications the council received in 2022 compared to 2021 – underlining the growing focus of construction companies to go green.

The council also reported an increase in demand for other green building certifications.

“The demand is driven, in part, through the implementation of rating systems such as Estidama in Abu Dhabi; Saafat in Dubai, and Burjeel in Ras Al Khaimah. The focus on promoting sustainable built environments also complements the vision of the government to achieve net-zero emissions, underpinned by the Net Zero by 2050 Strategic Initiative,” says Dr Ali Al Jassim, chairman of EmiratesGBC.

In addition to acquiring certifications, developers are also working toward incorporating green technology to build their projects. We take a look at some of the technologies enhancing sustainability in the construction industry:

Building Information Modeling
Building Information Modeling (BIM) is the process of digitally generating and managing building data during the design, construction, and life cycle of a project.

With advantages such as maximised efficiency and reduced costs and wastage, BIM is being widely adopted across AEC (architecture, construction, and engineering) industry. The market size for BIM is projected to rise to $15.06bn by 2027, according to a Allied Market Research report.

Currently, only Dubai mandates the use of BIM with Dubai Municipality decreeing that it must be used in “architectural and mechanical works” on buildings that have more than 20 floors or have areas larger than 200,000 square feet in addition to other conditions.

Although the UAE’s other emirates do not mandate the use of BIM, prominent projects such as the Abu Dhabi Midfield Terminal Building and the Louvre have used BIM.

“The construction sector in the Middle East has been widely implementing this innovative technology and its usage is anticipated to grow considerably in the future years. In the UAE, one of the factors contributing to this growth is the government directives that has enormously supported the sector and its innovative projects,” said Paul Wallett, regional director, Trimble Solutions – Middle East and India.

“The adoption and employment of BIM is widely encouraged by the UAE’s ambitious vision for a smart and digitalised nation. The already existing massive, well-built structures can serve as the ideal models or benchmarks for professionals to create more advanced developments,” he adds.

Modular construction
Modular construction or pre-assembled buildings are gaining popularity across the region. In the GCC, the modular construction and steel structure market touched $3bn in 2016 and is expected to reach $4bn by the end of this year at a CAGR of 7 per cent during the forecast period 2017-2022.

DuBox, a subsidiary of Dubai-based design-build construction company AMANA, specialises in modular construction and recently designed, manufactured, and installed the buildings for The Red Sea Development Company’s (TRSDC) Turtle Bay Hotel in less than 12 months.

“Faster, leaner, and greener modular construction has emerged as a viable solution in a rapidly evolving landscape. It potentially reduces material waste by up to 30 per cent and improves work safety by up to 70 per cent, as compared to traditional construction. Moreover, modular buildings can be constructed in 50 to 75 per cent lesser time compared to a conventional site-built project of comparable size. It also decreases the need for labour by up to 30 per cent and is an ideal solution to overcome labour shortages,” says Jihad Bsaibes, CEO of AMANA Contracting Group.

With reduced material requirements, modular construction may also help the industry cope with the rising prices of steel, aluminium, and other construction material.

3D Printing
This technology has the potential to save construction costs by 50 to 70 per cent and labour costs by 50 to 80 per cent, as well as bring down waste reduction during construction by 60 per cent.

Dubai has been one of the earliest proponents of 3D printing with the Dubai Future Foundation building being recognised as the world’s first fully functional, commercial 3D-printed building in 2016.

The emirate has a strategic target to have 25 per cent of its buildings constructed using 3D printing technology by 2030. The two-storey Innovation Centre of Dubai Municipality holds the Guinness World Record for the largest 3D printed structure in the world in volume. In September, Dubai Municipality launched several technical activities centered around 3D printing technology – including architectural consultancy, construction activity, and concrete casting for construction – in line with the 2021 Dubai 3D Printing Strategy launched by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

Sustainable Materials
Eco-friendly building materials are steadily gaining popularity across the nation. In 2019, Abu Dhabi’s Department of Urban Planning and Municipalities (DPM) announced the use of eco-friendly methods and materials in the construction of the emirate’s roads.

The DPM used geogrids to reinforce asphalt pavements, thereby reducing the quantity of used raw materials, construction time, operating costs and carbon emissions, while extending the roads’ lifespan.

Another positive development was the announcement by Bee’ah, a Sharjah-based public-private partnership firm, of procuring sustainable construction material by recycling ashes from municipal solid waste incinerators, in partnership with UAE-based start-up ceramic materials.

Low-carbon concrete supply can also lead to sustainable construction in the Middle East, and it will reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by acting as a carbon sink. It is thus a viable, versatile; highly durable material that is not only sustainable but low-cost as well.

Industry experts agree that retrofitting is an important method for improving the energy efficiency of existing buildings.

The process not only contributes to a more sustainable built environment but also mitigates the building industry’s impact on the climate.

Abu Dhabi’s Building Retrofit Programme aims to improve the electricity and water efficiency of existing buildings across the emirate and will save up to 40 per cent of power consumption according to Abu Dhabi National Energy Company (TAQA).

Dubai’s Etihad Energy Services Company (Etihad ESCO) is a strong proponent of retrofitting and organises the annual Retrofit Tech MENA Summit and Awards that bring together the top stakeholders across the region, to share industry best-practices and introduce new technology in the retrofitting domain.

The company aims to retrofit 30,000 buildings in the next 10 years, and generate 1.68TWh energy savings and 5.64 BIG water savings by 2030.

Dubai’s Supreme Council of Energy has also set the goal of reducing the city’s energy demand by 30 per cent by 2030, and retrofitting existing buildings is an integral part of this strategy.

Meanwhile, Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) has invested over $8bn to retrofit 30,000 buildings, which upon completion will yield savings of over $22.33bn. Launched in 2018, Ras al-Khaimah’s building retrofit programme also aims to retrofit 3,000 buildings by the end of 2040.

As the UAE marches towards its net-zero by 2050 target, the country’s construction sector is set to play a pivotal role in fulfilling its goal of a decarbonised future.

Backed by technology-driven sustainable building practices, the UAE construction industry is poised for tremendous growth.

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