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April 18, 2019

NAIT research partnership aims for a construction future that’s waste-free



As reported in the Financial Post, imagine a construction project that doesn’t contribute to Canadian landfills. It may sound far-fetched, but to the individual advancing innovation for one of Canada’s largest construction firms, waste-free construction will one day be a reality.

Clint Undseth, vice-president of innovation at Calgary-based construction giant Stuart Olson, says going waste-free is really about developing what’s called the circular economy, in which everything is recycled, reused and repurposed.

The concept is particularly attractive to the construction industry, which produces a lot of waste. In Alberta alone it is estimated that solid waste from construction, demolition and renovation projects makes up 22 per cent of material in provincial landfills and contributes 677,395 tonnes of waste per year.

“We have an opportunity to use the raw resources—waste—and leverage technologies to turn it into something useful, and even profitable,” says Undseth. “But we need the desire to do it on a government and industry level.”

That’s why Stuart Olson is teaming up with the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) and others in the industry to explore technologies and solutions.

“The idea is to create a collaborative hub where we bring together academia and industry,” says Undseth, an industry adjunct advisor for the initiative.

This involves developing new applications and technologies by leveraging revolutionary advances like artificial intelligence, value-added materials, deep data analytics and embedded sensor systems to solve problems businesses currently face, says Chris Dambrowitz, associate vice-president of research and innovation at NAIT, who is heading up the applied research initiative at the polytechnic.

The research will help industry boost productivity and remain competitive in a global marketplace, he adds.

Innovation, technology and sustainability are critical to Canada’s construction industry becoming a global leader, says Undseth. “Part and parcel to that is building the circular economy. It’s a completely cradle-to-cradle approach to construction, which means we take the entire project lifestyle into consideration, creating a closed loop that ensures that future generations won’t pay for wasted resources.”

Much work remains to eliminate waste from the current industry, in which construction and building materials make up about 30 per cent of waste in Canadian municipal landfills. Construction also accounts for 40 to 50 per cent of raw materials, such as lumber, minerals and ores, extracted across the globe, says Undseth.

Keep reading in the Financial Post


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