Norwegian architect Snøhetta has pledged to only design carbon-negative buildings, meaning their projects will generate more energy than they consume over their lifetime. "For the next 10 years, we have the ambition of having projects on the table that will become CO2 negative in the cradle-to-cradle definition," said Kjetil Thorsen (co-founder of Snøhetta) "This means we have to understand the embodied energies and all the materials used."
Snøhetta estimates that 85 per cent of a building's carbon emissions are generated by materials and construction, with just 15 per cent produced over the building's operational lifetime and during decommissioning.
"In order to become CO2 negative after a certain period of time, you have to start producing energy from day one, repaying the carbon debt that which you had at the day of the opening," Thorsen told "You have to start paying back by producing clean energy." The main way buildings can repay this carbon debt is by generating power using photovoltaic panels, Thorsen said. With today's photovoltaic technology, buildings need to be operational for around 60 years before their solar panels have generated enough power to pay back all the carbon emitted over the building's lifetime.
With current photovoltaic technology, carbon-negative buildings need to be sculpted to maximise the sunlight that hits them. But Thorsen believes that advances in solar-panel technology will allow buildings to generate clean energy more efficiently and become carbon positive more quickly. Nanotechnology could soon be used to make panels with micro-scale 3D surfaces that capture more sunlight than today's flat panels.
Other ways Snøhetta is trying to reduce the time it takes for buildings to repay their carbon debt include using less carbon-intensive materials such as wood and avoiding composite materials and glues that cannot be reused.
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