Understanding and harnessing biogenic carbon could be the key to seeking sustainable solutions for our future buildings.
Biogenic carbon is carbon that exists within the natural carbon cycle. This cycle occurs as plants, trees, grasses and organic matter absorb, store and emit carbon over their life cycles. Considered to be the short carbon cycle which ranges from 1-100 years, the natural carbon cycle keeps the earth’s carbon in balance. However, this stability can be greatly disrupted when large amounts of fossil carbon emissions are also entering the atmosphere as we continue to mine and burn fossil fuels.
Fossil carbon was formed millions of years ago when living matter died and was deposited on the ground. Over time, this material becomes buried and the environment causes the molecules to break apart and form fossil fuels. Fossil carbon enters the atmosphere as carbon emissions when mined from the earth’s surface and burned for energy or used in manufacturing.
Carbon emissions generated by plants decomposing or by burning fossil fuels may have the same effect as a greenhouse gas, however there are alternative methods that can be employed to prevent biogenic emissions entering the atmosphere.
While there are many efforts to decrease and ultimately eliminate the use of fossil carbon, we can also look to reduce emissions and increase carbon storage options within biogenic carbon cycles. Building materials such as Durra Panel which are made from natural materials clearly demonstrate the environmental benefits of operating within the natural carbon cycle.
The densely compressed core of Durra Panel consists entirely of agricultural straw, with only heat and pressure used to catalyze a self-binding manufacturing process. Straw, a waste by-product of the farming industry, is a biomass material partially comprised of carbon. This carbon is originally sourced from the atmosphere during photosynthesis as the plant grows, and for every square metre of Durra Panel, 31kg of atmospheric carbon dioxide has been extracted during this growth process. After harvesting and manufacturing, each square metre of Durra Panel embodies 8.5kg of carbon, which remains stored within the product for the duration of its long life span.
As the performance of Durra Panel does not degrade, this carbon can be stored within buildings for over 60 years, which will greatly delay its return to the atmosphere. If it does reach the end of its useful life, Durra Panel can naturally break down as compost or soil conditioner, gradually returning the stored carbon back to the atmosphere over time. The carbon passing through this process is referred to as biogenic carbon as it operates within the natural carbon cycle.
Straw presents one of the best opportunities for biogenic carbon storage as it is grown and harvested each year, meaning it is consistently sequestering atmospheric carbon. With so much accessible straw being produced across the world, manufacturing sustainable building materials has the ability to lock away huge amounts of biogenic carbon for decades while also reducing the use of fossil fuel-heavy, synthetic materials within the construction industry.
The built environment presents an excellent opportunity to further extend the carbon-storing period by utilising straw products such as Durra Panel within our homes and buildings.
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