In a contributor opinion for Conviction, the Co-Founder & CEO of the 3D construction tech Mighty Buildings, Slava Solonitsyn provides the blueprints for the future of sustainable housing. Slava’s Mighty Buildings is on a mission to reimagine the built environment, deploying disruptive technologies in the design and manufacture of single-family homes to make new units greener and more affordable at scale.
Founded in 2017, Mighty Buildings leverages advanced materials and construction tech, 3D printing and robotics automation, which Slava says are the keys to the sector’s sustainability. Mighty Buildings aims to reduce labour hours, residual waste and environmental impact relative to conventional construction which accounts for 28 per cent of global emissions.
The relative novelty of 3D printers to the general public has the technology thought of as a niche, hobbyist fascination - associated with trinkets, not townhouses. 3D-printed homes might sound like science fiction. But not only can buildings be 3D-printed, it’s already happening, and it’s a powerful idea that can help solve enormous environmental problems caused by traditional construction.
The sustainable transformation of homebuilding is long overdue. Despite widespread implementation of green tech in the built environment, such as solar panels and low-flow water fixtures, there is a significant opportunity for larger-scale improvements to construction materials and processes in a sector that has been slow to evolve.
“3D-printed homes might sound like science fiction. But not only can buildings be 3D-printed, it’s already happening.”
From climate change to the housing crisis, the imperative of sustainability is clear:
- According to the UN, 28% of emissions can be traced to the building sector
- Each year, the global cement industry alone accounts for 8% of emissions in the production of more than 4BN tonnes of cement
- The construction of an average 1,200 square foot single-family home generates 4,266 pounds of waste with traditional construction methods
Transitioning from conventional construction to a greener model could take decades for existing players with deeply entrenched business models. But radical change is needed, and new technologies make it possible to adapt the sector’s operations through innovation.
Advanced 3D printing of buildings is one promising solution, as it tackles both the materials and process challenges inherent in traditional construction. Critically, 3D methods can be implemented and scaled quickly and sustainably - urgently.
“There is a significant opportunity for larger-scale improvements to construction materials and processes in a sector that has been slow to evolve.”
When my partners and I started Mighty Buildings in 2017, we set out to help solve the housing crisis while also reducing construction-related emissions. And we did this with a firm belief that it is possible and efficient to build beautiful, sustainable homes at scale.
For instance, when 3D printing a 1,200 square foot family home, Mighty Buildings eliminates up to 95 per cent of construction waste, and the associated carbon emissions compared to the equivalent build of a home using traditional methods. The emissions savings from 3D printing just one home eliminates is roughly the same as a 5,026-mile drive or 225 gallons of gasoline.
The eight per cent of CO2 emissions attributable to cement production would see the industry rank third internationally, more than any individual country except for China and the US. Although cement makers pledged at COP26 to reach net-zero by 2050, there’s a quicker solution than the path they’ve proposed. Sustainable materials already being used in 3D printed construction could enable a near-zero waste production process that is both more durable and energy-efficient now as well as long-term sustainability.
“The emissions savings from 3D printing just one home eliminates is roughly the same as a 5,026-mile drive or 225 gallons of gasoline.”
For example, Mighty Buildings has developed a proprietary polymer-based Light Stone Material as an alternative to conventional cement and stick-built materials. The production process produces nearly no waste and the material can be printed in any shape and house wall size. It hardens to a stone-like composite when exposed to UV light and is more durable and energy-efficient than concrete without requiring additional insulation.
Not only is it challenging to cut emissions in cement production because the chemical processes used to produce cement concrete release CO2, but decarbonisation requires willingness and commitment from construction companies to mitigate their environmental impact. Change is always hard, but in this case, it will be especially difficult if it requires concrete consumers to increase their costs.
“Decarbonisation requires willingness and commitment from construction companies to mitigate their environmental impact.”
Mighty Buildings is already committed to reaching carbon neutrality by at least 2028, but our ambition is to achieve it earlier by 2025. Mighty Buildings carbon neutrality goal could be expedited by improvements we are implementing that could lessen our carbon footprint by an additional 12 per cent.
Not only is 3D printing more energy energy-efficient but it also holds promise for more affordable housing construction. The Mighty Building material and production process delivers zero net energy (ZNE) homes that are actually cost-competitive against non-zero net energy homes.
“Zero net energy homes have higher asset value, lower long-term utilities costs and are even more resilient during extreme weather and natural disasters.”
ZNE is defined as a building that produces as much energy through clean, renewable resources as it consumes over the course of a year. Many ZNE buildings are not only less carbon-intensive to build, but they also have higher asset value, lower long-term utilities costs and are even more resilient during extreme weather and natural disasters.
3D printing is squarely at the forefront of Industry 4.0, transforming the means of design, production and distribution of everything we consume. From construction to manufacturing, 3D printing is at the centre of everything Industry 4.0 promises to make life better and more sustainable through a blend of IoT, data, automation and other technologies that deliver increased productivity and greater flexibility through decentralisation.
“Disruptive tech startups across 3D printing, robotics and automation can realise a more sustainable built environment that’s both greener and more affordable.”
As a disruptive technology 3D printing has huge potential beyond one single application. From a single-family home, 3D printing can be scaled to the extent that entire 3D printed neighbourhoods and communities are on the horizon.
Partnerships between the construction industry, forward-thinking developers and disruptive tech startups across 3D printing, robotics and automation can realise a more sustainable built environment that’s both greener and more affordable. Great design and building of sustainable, resilient communities, starting today, will one day make high-quality housing accessible to all.
Slava Solonitsyn, Co-Founder & CEO of Mighty Buildings
Slava Solonitsyn is Chief Executive Officer & Co-Founder of Mighty Buildings. Founded in 2017, Mighty Buildings is reimagining the building industry. By applying automation, 3D printing, advanced material science, and other innovative technologies to offsite prefabrication, Mighty Buildings can build houses with fewer labour hours, less residual waste, and reduced environmental impact than conventional construction.
Join the conversation
Thoughts? Join the conversation. Leave a comment below, share and follow @ConvictionWire for more.
Send tips, releases and feedback to email@example.com, pitch contributor views to firstname.lastname@example.org and ping email@example.com with AOB.