How can digital twins minimise construction’s environmental impact?
In this article, Nilson Kufus, CEO and founder of Nomoko, explores the uses and benefits of digital twins in minimising the construction industry’s environmental impact
The construction industry is a major contributor to global CO2 emissions, with estimates indicating that it accounts for nearly 40% of all emissions worldwide.
In light of this, it is increasingly important for the industry to find ways to minimise its environmental impact. One emerging solution is the use of digital twins, which are virtual replicas of physical buildings or infrastructure that can be used to model and predict their impact and performance.
By leveraging the power of this technology, construction companies can reduce their environmental impact by avoiding rework, comparing as-built to as-designed plans, capturing progress, and easily sharing the data with all stakeholders in a visual manner.
What are digital twins?
Digital twins are virtual copies of real-world objects that are created by combining data from various sources such as high-definition drone images, environmental 3D models, building information models (BIMs), sensors, and other digital tools.
Once a digital twin is created, it can be used to simulate and monitor a building’s performance under different scenarios.
For example, a digital twin can be used to simulate the impact of constructing a building in the area, as well as predict the effects of different occupancies on the surrounding area.
Depending on the data integrated with the digital twin, this could include monitoring and predicting how a new building might impact surface runoff or how extending a neighbourhood might affect traffic in that area.
Predicting the impact on the environment while also predicting the impact of the environment means architects and construction companies can assess which building materials, structures, and designs make the most sense for the area.
How 3D digital twins can prevent design errors and problems
Evaluating how a new building will fit in its environmental context ensures that the project does not conflict with other uses of the space, neighbouring parcels, protected natural zones, etc., minimizing the need for expensive retrofitting or repairs.
Any miscalculation can lead to costly construction rework: more than 5% of total project costs can be attributed to rework, with to up to 70% of them due to engineering and design errors.
Minimising the environmental impact of construction
3D digital twins can also minimise the environmental impact of construction by identifying optimal areas where buildings could be placed or by indicating the right building shape that would maximize solar exposure, reducing the need for artificial lighting and heating.
Additionally, 3D digital twins from drones can be used to monitor and optimize the construction process itself. Up-to-date data and images of the construction site allow construction companies to adjust in real-time.
In this way, 3D models can, for example, be used to monitor the progress of construction and identify areas where materials could be reused or recycled, thus reducing waste and minimizing the need for new materials.
Digital twins can help to reduce energy consumption and prolong the lifespan of equipment
Beyond this, digital twins can also be used to optimise the maintenance and operation of buildings by reducing energy consumption and prolonging the lifespan of equipment and systems thanks to better planning.
By monitoring how buildings are affected by, say, environmental factors, digital twins make it possible to do predictive rather than reactive maintenance.
This, in turn, allows for just-in-time replacement of system parts, so that parts are used as long as possible yet without risking costly failures. Overall, the use of 3D digital twins in construction can help to prevent design errors before construction has started.
A few challenges are still to be overcome, such as the need for interoperability and standardisation across different digital tools and systems, as building a comprehensive digital twin requires integrating data from various sources.
Regardless the simulations that digital twins enable are a remarkable tool for identifying where the environmental impact could be reduced, leading to a more efficient and sustainable construction and reducing the impact on our planet.
BERLIN, Sept 19 (Reuters) – Climate Change made the heavy rainfall that led to deadly floods in Libya up to 50 times more likely, scientists said on Tuesday.
The powerful Sept. 10 storm caused two dams to break, inundating Libya’s eastern city of Derna and killing thousands of people. Residential blocks built along a typically dry riverbank toppled, as the swollen river undermined foundations.
Building in flood plains, poor dam conditions, long-lasting armed conflict and other local factors played a role in the disaster.
But climate change caused up to 50% more rain during that period, according to scientists with World Weather Attribution, an international research collaboration that works to determine how much climate change plays a role in specific weather events.
The scientists warned that as climate change pushes weather to new extremes, it would remain risky to build homes on flood plains or to use substandard materials.
“The interaction of these factors, and the very heavy rain that was worsened by climate change, created the extreme destruction [in Libya]”, the scientists wrote in a statement.
They used climate and computer simulations to compare weather events today with what they might have been if the climate had not already warmed by 1.2 degrees Celsius above the average preindustrial temperature.
Rainfall can increase or become more erratic with climate change, as a warmer atmosphere can hold more water vapour – allowing more moisture to build up before clouds finally break.
The “extremely unusual” storm event delivered 50% more rain than it would have if there was no global warming, according to the scientists’ research. Such an event can be expected once every 300-600 years in the current climate, they said.
Meanwhile, climate change also caused up to a 40% increase in the amount of rain that fell in early September across the Mediterranean, causing floods that killed dozens in Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey.
“The Mediterranean is a hotspot of climate change-fueled hazards,” said Friederike Otto, a climate scientist at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment, citing heatwaves and wildfires in the region over summer.
Reuters – Reporting by Riham Alkousaa Editing by Alexandra Hudson
A source familiar with the project stated: “The tower, exceeding 1,000 metres in height, is now in full swing.”
The developer has initiated the process of soliciting bids from contractors for the project’s completion, with a deadline for bids set for the end of this year. Kingdom Holding Company CEO Talal Ibrahim Almaiman confirmed the issuance of the official tender when contacted by MEED.
The companies invited to bid for the contract include:
China Harbour (China)
China State Construction Engineering Corporation (China)
Consolidated Contractors Company (CCC – Lebanon)
El-Seif Engineering Contracting (local)
Hyundai Engineering Construction (South Korea)
Mohammed Abdulmohsin al-Kharafi & Sons (Kuwait)
Nesma & Partners (local)
Samsung C+T (South Korea)
Saudi Freyssinet (local)
Contractors have been granted a three-month window to prepare their bids, with the expectation that these firms will establish partnerships involving both local and international participants. Notably, site visits have been conducted by the contractors.
Before issuing the tender, JEC took the initiative to commission an impartial assessment of the structure. The foundational and piling work for the groundbreaking tower has been successfully completed.
The construction of the tower’s superstructure, which commenced in the early 2010s with the local Saudi Binladin Group (SBG) as the contractor, has now achieved one-third completion. The piling work for the tower was skillfully executed by Germany’s Bauer.
JEC has initiated the process of invoking the performance guarantees or bonds provided by SBG, with these bonds totaling $174 million (SR653 million), as confirmed by a source closely connected to the project. Almaiman, the developer, has also confirmed the exercise of contractual rights after granting the contractor a five-year window for re-engagement.
Although SBG is no longer the project’s contractor, the consulting team remains consistent. The architect is Adrian Smith & Gordon Gill, headquartered in the United States, and the engineering consultant is Dar al-Handasah (Shair & Partners) from Lebanon.
JEC’s shareholder makeup includes the Kingdom Holding Company, holding a 40% stake, the Bakhsh Group, also with a 40% stake, and the Sharbatly Group, possessing a 20% share.
Jeddah Tower is on track to exceed Dubai’s Burj Khalifa by an impressive 172 metres in height, making it the centerpiece of the Jeddah Economic City development. The initial phase of the project, encompassing the main tower, spans an expansive 1.5 square kilometres.
The “Cizre Dam” project to be built on the Tigris River in Cizre was approved. Many settlements will be flooded by the new dam.
20 Aug 2023
The Tigris River passes through the Cizre region of Şirnak and runs along the borders of the Federated Kurdistan Region before flowing into the Persian Gulf. A new dam will be built on the Tigris River, which is considered the longest river in the Middle East with a length of 2,800 kilometres. The project is called “Cizre Dam” and was put out to bid on 24 May 2013, but was suspended due to various disagreements.
In the decision taken by the Ministry of Environment, Urbanization and Climate Change on 29 April 2019, the “Environmental Impact Assessment prepared and finalized for the Cizre Dam and HEPP (Energy, Drinking Water, Irrigation) to be carried out by the Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs, General Directorate of State Hydraulic Works (DSI) was found sufficient by the Investigation and Evaluation Commission and was accepted as final.”
The “Cizre Dam” will be the 10th dam on the Tigris River, and the second largest dam after the Ilısu Dam built on the river.
The project of the dam, which has been the subject of a harsh debate for years, was accepted on 16 August. However, it is not known when the construction of the dam will begin. As it happened with other dams, this new one will mean that many species living in the Tigris River will once again be in danger of extinction.
The Tigris River also provides water to the South Kurdistan Region and its government as well as the Iraqi government will face a major water crisis with the completion of the dam. It is claimed that the dam, which will be built with a height of 40 meters and a water storage volume of 381 million cubic meters, will be completed within three years.
AKP Şırnak MP Arslan Tatar announced on his social media account that the tender for the dam has come into effect and said: “The tender for the construction of the Cizre Dam and HEPP project, which was designed for Energy + Drinking Water + Irrigation purposes and is a key project within the scope of the South-eastern Anatolia Project (GAP), has been assigned. Construction work should begin as soon as possible and complete it within 3 years so to quickly start energy production.”
After the 14 May elections, the first act of the AKP in Sirnak was securing the tender for the dam project, despite the catastrophic effects it will have on the environment. According to the project, the dam is expected to be built below the town of Qesirk (Kasrik), which separates the Cudi and Gabar Mountains, and the village of Misûriyê. The project will also affect many roads, vineyards and settlements that, as it happened with the Ilisu dam, will be flooded.
The trouble with megaprojects is, as per an anonymous GIS expert, Ill-advised government megaprojects are as old as time. Saudi Arabia’s ambitious plans for the Neom smart city may bring economic and political headaches.
Grand governmental designs often end up expensive failures
The damage from capital misallocation can be slow-burning
Saudi Arabia’s smart city ambitions will come at significant cost
Ambitious architectural, infrastructure and engineering megaprojects are nothing new. Rulers and governments of all kinds have long relied on them to project strength, to increase their appeal to the public and to attract trade and foreign visitors. Some of those structures have survived for centuries or millennia, still managing to fulfill these functions. The Colosseum, the Parthenon, the Egyptian pyramids: virtually all of the ancient wonders of the world, and many of the modern ones, could have been described as vanity projects, at least before they came to be recognized as feats of human civilization and creativity.
More recent projects have also added value, whether economic, aesthetic or functional, to the cities and populations that surround them. Consider the Gotthard Tunnel in Switzerland, or the impressive Panama Canal, rendered even more impressive by its recent expansion. Even the International Space Station (ISS) – still the most expensive structure in the world, built at the cost of $150 billion – has delivered the intended results.
These successes, however, are exceptions to a very unfortunate rule: megastructures tend to turn out to be mega-failures. Inevitable cost and time overruns, combined with unpredictable external developments, often leave initial targets unmet by the time of completion. In some cases, governments and politicians (almost comically) overpromise and underdeliver, as it is the “vision” of the project, not the execution, that matters to their personal political gain. The result, unveiled only years after the end of their tenures, is someone else’s concern.
The successes are exceptions to a very unfortunate rule: megastructures tend to turn out to be mega-failures.
Accordingly, there are some obvious “duds” – projects that proved to be nothing more than a waste of time, human labor and money. As any country that has hosted the Olympics can testify, stadiums and facilities may be used once and then left to crumble. There is an abundance of other poorly thought-out examples, the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in the United States to failed city-building projects like Myanmar’s Naypyidaw, which still looks like a ghost town 17 years after its completion.
There is a basic criticism that faces most megaprojects, ancient or contemporary, paid for with public funds: the individual taxpayer usually has not asked for it. Even if it ends up a resounding success, any citizen forced to contribute to a project’s construction still has the right to argue that it was a waste of their resources. We might be enchanted today by the architectural marvel of the Acropolis or the massive amphitheaters that one stumbles upon when visiting Greece. But it’s not hard to understand the grievances of a poor, ordinary ancient Athenian who would rather have some extra food – or better yet, his money back.
When megaprojects fail
Still, one can distinguish between the success of different large-scale projects, especially in modern times. There is certainly some correlation between the motives behind a given megaproject and its fate. For instance, structures with a well-defined, practical and focused purpose tend to fare better than the alternatives. These often include science- or energy-oriented infrastructure projects, from dams and nuclear plants to the Large Hadron Collider or the aforementioned ISS.
On the contrary, the most ambitious “visions” – typically of the utopian kind – are often doomed to fail. These usually involve grand designs, based on unrealistic or impractical assumptions and a good dose of wishful thinking. Their primary purpose is to display a state’s strength, flaunt its wealth, or convince the rest of the world of its technological prowess. In some cases, they resemble the concept cars displayed by automotive companies at conventions. They are not so much a blueprint for an actual car, but a statement to competitors and the public: “Look what we could build if we wanted to.”
Even when “concept” megastructures are actually completed – and even if they look more or less like the pictures in the prospectus – they can still disappoint. That was arguably the case with the 2022 World Cup held in Qatar, for which the country spent more than $200 billion during a 12-year construction scheme. The gargantuan project employed hundreds of thousands of migrant workers, who labored under harsh, widely criticized conditions. The result was eight spectacular stadiums for a tiny nation that has little further use for them, along with an entirely new city in Lusail.
Most of the new infrastructure was expected to be repurposed or dismantled and recycled, both options seeming somewhat cumbersome and completely inefficient. Qatar and FIFA also made bold environmental promises before the Word Cup that have not been met, according to a recent report by the Swiss Fairness Commission, an advertising and communications regulator.
Neom: The Saudi smart city
Saudi Arabia’s planned “smart city” of Neom is a core element of the country’s Vision 2030 plan, and the brainchild of its de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (often known as MbS). Named using a portmanteau of the Greek word for “new” and the Arabic word for “future,” the project has been promoted as part of an effort to diversify from a dependence on oil. It is designed to include a combination of ultra-futuristic structures in an area the size of Belgium, at the northern end of the Saudi Red Sea coastline.
The city’s centerpiece is a 170-kilometer-long sideways “skyscraper,” known as The Line, that will be the focal point of residential and tourist activities. It will have no cars, no roadways and no carbon emissions. Promotional materials say it will provide 380,000 jobs by 2030, powered entirely by renewable energy, and leave “95 percent of the land” preserved. “People’s health and well-being will be prioritized over transportation and infrastructure, unlike traditional cities,” the website claims. The Oxagon is meant to serve as the “industrial hub” of Neom, promising to be the “world’s largest floating structure with an automated port, smart supply chain network and innovation hubs.”
For a project that claims to prioritize preservation and environmental concerns, a floating megastructure is a strange choice. Major industrial activities involving chemicals and other kinds of pollution (both planned and accidental), as well as dramatic changes to the natural habitat of marine species, can hardly pass a green test. Questions also arise around the project’s practical implementation. The untested Oxagon concept will surely run into unforeseen challenges, including structural integrity, stability and other technical issues. If these are not impossible to overcome, they will at least require a massive expenditure of money and resources.
More interesting than the “how” is the “why.” Even assuming that these practical problems could somehow be solved, the real question is why anyone would want to solve them in the first place. What other reason could there be, if not vanity? Granted, a sense of curiosity and the desire to showcase the limits of human creativity and ingenuity could be understandable impulses. We might even concede that a genuine belief that the public could actually reap some benefit, at some point, is largely though not entirely inconceivable.
But why spend all these resources and insist on malinvestment on this scale, when all these funds, effort and talent could be directed at ventures that might appear less impressive, but could benefit the people of the country and the entire region much more directly, effectively, and sooner? After all, building a French embassy on the Moon might also be technically possible, and would probably make the French proud, but it is certainly not financially prudent nor practically sensible.
Barring major geopolitical events like a regional war, the next decade will likely bring great prosperity to Saudi Arabia. Serious domestic opposition to the regime is unlikely to emerge, as so much money being invested in the country will raise the general standard of living. At the same time, the harmful effects of capital misallocation will not yet be truly visible.
Even after the Vision 2030 “deadline” comes and goes, the country may still be able to mask any cracks that appear through further investments. That is hardly a sustainable strategy, however. At some point, there will be a price to pay for all the wasteful and inefficient ventures, and it will be one that the Saudi economy will be unable to afford. But abandoning these projects will also be politically untenable. Eventually, we could see a slide in the standard of living and rising public discontent, with serious social and political consequences.
Another scenario would be that these megastructures are never actually completed. The practical and technical challenges could be too difficult to overcome, the obstacles that are already obvious could multiply as work progresses on the ground, and foreign investment could begin to dry up. This may well cause political problems domestically, but economically, it might prove the lesser of two evils.
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Earth has been used as a building material for at least the last 12,000 years. Ethnographic research into earth being used as an element of Aboriginal architecture in Australia suggests its use probably goes back much further.
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