UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering


Life cycle carbon impact considerations in higher education building redevelopment decision making

There are strong drivers to reduce energy-related carbon emissions in the higher education sector, although also big challenges owing to the diversity of uses, construction styles and operational characteristics of buildings in higher education estates.

An approach for reduction of these operational carbon emissions is to replace existing buildings with newer, more energy-efficient buildings. However, there can be a significant carbon investment in terms of the materials used (embodied carbon impact) in the construction and maintenance of a new building. This is in addition to the many other implications of replacing a building.

David’s EngD research focuses on life cycle carbon impact considerations in the redevelopment of higher education buildings. Primary areas of enquiry include the typical magnitudes of initial and recurring embodied carbon impacts during the building life cycle, how embodied carbon impacts may be influenced by design, and the extent to which design options for refurbishment and new-build influence operational carbon impacts. The research includes construction and analysis of a national university buildings energy database and a study of life cycle carbon impacts for a selection of existing university buildings.

The target outcome is a demonstration visualisation that allows the impact of carbon management decisions for one or a number of buildings to be scoped. The visualisation will also serve an educational function to highlight how lifecycle carbon impacts vary over the life of a building. The input interface allows the user to set high-level attributes and existing energy performance for each building. The carbon performance of each building is initially graded in comparison to an underlying database and a visualisation then highlights the life cycle carbon impact over time for a selection of carbon reduction interventions and refurbishment/new-build scenarios.