Brexit, skills and innovation: The challenges and opportunities facing the UK construction industry
After a snow disrupted April...
The UK construction industry continued to rebound in June, beating expectations with activity hitting a seven-month high.
After a snow disrupted April this is the third straight month of recovery in the construction industry, where housebuilding was once again the star performer, propping up the sector as civil engineering projects continued to hold back growth.
Yet the same survey which illustrates the construction sector putting the winter slump further behind it, also highlights concerns of the outlook ahead of Brexit. With so many uncertainties still linked to the UK leaving the EU, it is increasingly challenging for people or businesses to make any firm plans. This will only amplify as we move closer to Brexit should no deal be agreed.
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Up until now, growth of construction of residential properties has been a key driving force in the sector, government scheme such as help to buy, in addition to a slow improvement in financial conditions which continue to help lift demand.
Increased Brexit uncertainty as we move closer to the divorce date is likely to put the brakes on the demand side of this equation as confidence weakens and could slow down residential construction significantly. Given that this is currently one of the central pillars holding the sector up, the impact could be grave.
Costs are increasing. June saw the sharpest increase in input prices since September. Whilst inflation following the sharp fall in the pound after the Brexit referendum, is now working its way out of the system, it is unlikely that the pound at its current level is pricing in a hard, no deal Brexit. This means that a further fall in sterling is possible should there be no deal. If this is the case, we can expect input prices to be on the increase again. Furthermore, with shortages in skill and materials from the EU post Brexit costs can be expected to keep rising.
In times of difficultly innovation can often take a step forward. An increase in innovation and initiatives to drive change are already happening in the construction sector in order to try to meet demands and minimise costs. An increase in the use of technology and innovations in the areas of pre-manufacture and sustainability could contribute towards new construction methods.
Right now, the construction industry is holding up surprisingly well. However, with just eight months to go towards Brexit and significant uncertainties going forward the industry could find its star performer, residential construction under increasing pressure and costs all around rising. Continued innovation through technology could help address the skills shortage and increasing costs that are expected post Brexit.
By Fiona Cincotta, a senior market analyst at www.cityindex.co.uk
ReCreate project reuses concrete in new buildings
Reconciling the carbon conundrum in construction will not be a quick fix but researchers at Finland's Tampere University may have hit on a way of deconstructing concrete elements and reusing them in new buildings.
Its four-year ReCreate project, which has received €12.5 million of funding under the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme, involves universities and regional company clusters in Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Germany. All the country clusters will carry out their own pilot projects where they deconstruct precast concrete elements intact and reuse them in a new building.
“By reusing concrete elements, we can save an enormous amount of energy and raw materials,” says Satu Huuhka, adjunct professor at the Faculty of Built Environment at Tampere University, who leads the ReCreate project. “We are specifically looking to reuse the concrete elements as a whole, not as a raw material for something new."
Researchers at the Faculty of Built Environment have been carrying out ground-breaking research into the circular economy in the construction sector for a decade.
Long-term research on renovation and the lifecycle engineering of structures provides a solid foundation for the development of quality assurance procedures that will ensure the safety and integrity of the reused elements. This time, the researchers are set to explore not only the technical implementation of the solutions but also the business perspective.
Huuhka acknowledges there are many unanswerered questions, from assessing structural integrity to building code requirements - and ultimately how to turn ReCreate into a viable business. "We must also consider the social aspects: does the process require new skills or new ways of working?” he adds.
Tampere University researchers will also bring to the project their specialist expertise in circular economy business models, building regulations and law, and occupational sociology. The Finnish country cluster comprises Tampere University, Skanska, demolition company Umacon, precast concrete company Consolis Parma, engineering and consultancy company Ramboll, architecture firm Liike Oy Arkkitehtistudio and the City of Tampere. The communications partner is the Croatia Green Building Council.
Buildings generate nearly 40% of GHG emissions and the rising pace of construction - up to 2 trillion square feet could be added by 2060 - means finding a sustainable concrete solution is essential.
Graphene concrete on firm foundations, CarbonCure accelerates growth and Nexii expands in US
Nationwide Engineering is claiming a world first today as it lays the world's first graphene concrete slab engineered for sustainability in a commercial setting. The new material is strengthened by around 30% compared to standard concrete and so significantly cutting material use.
It has partnered with the University of Manchester's Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre and structural engineers HBPW Consulting; graphene is an allotrope of carbon and the resulting mix with concrete produces a substance that area for area, is stronger than steel, it claims.
CarbonCure manufactures a technology for the concrete industry that introduces recycled CO₂ into fresh concrete to reduce its carbon footprint without compromising performance. It was named one of two winners in the US$20 million NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE and the money will be used to accelerate its mission of reducing 500 million tonnes of carbon emissions annually by 2030. Carbon Cure believes the use of CO2 in concrete is expected to become a US$400 billion market opportunity.
Nexii designs and manufactures high-performance buildings and green building products that are sustainable, cost-efficient and resilient in the face of climate change. It recently teamed up with actor and Pittsburgh native Michael Keaton, who will have an ownership stake and play an active role in Nexii’s upcoming manufacturing plant, which will be its second in the United States and sixth overall.