Above: Bamboo schoolhouse construction in Darjeeling region of NE India (Kent Harries)
In most industrialized countries where manufacturing facilities are commonplace, construction materials like wood, steel, and concrete are dominant. As a result, about 20 percent of global greenhouse emissions are due to the construction industry1, about half of which is from the cement industry alone2. Yet across the globe – in high and low income countries alike – there are alternative “nonconventional” materials that respect local customs, are environmentally friendly, and historically durable: bamboo and earthen materials among them.
Next week, the 18th annual Non-Conventional Materials (NOCMAT) Conference returns in a virtual format over six days in June where researchers from around the globe will discuss the latest innovations in a science that seeks to develop safe, sustainable, and affordable construction in harmony with the environment. Primary sponsors are the University of Pittsburgh and its Swanson School of Engineering and the University of Puerto Rico – Mayagüez. The theme of the conference is ‘Turning Non-conventional into Non-negotiable’; placing non-conventional materials on the same footing as their conventional counterparts.
“With the continued growth and redistribution in global population, there will always be a construction boom somewhere. For the past four decades NOCMAT has been exploring how meet this challenge while reducing emissions, while highlighting natural resources such as those developed in regions throughout Asia and Central and South America that serve just as well a purpose as conventional materials, if not better,” noted Kent Harries, PhD, FASCE, FACI, FIIFC, PEng, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Pitt and conference co-chair. “NOCMAT promotes a continued international dialogue and we are excited to share the latest findings in the field.”
“As governments, professional societies, and companies move toward zero-emission and sustainable practices and standards, there is something to be learned from these skills that have developed over millennia and now benefit from the coupled strengths of university research and local knowledge,” explained co-chair Christopher Papadopoulos, PhD, professor of engineering sciences and materials at Mayagüez. “NOCMAT will also explore strategies to promote community education, access, social equity and justice that are necessary for non-conventional materials to flourish”.
NOCMAT will take place on Tuesday’s and Thursday’s from June 7-23. For more information about the conference and sessions, visit https://nocmat.lasaweb.org. In a novel move in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the organizers adopted a “pay-what-you-can” registration model to support participants with economic limitations. Those who are able contribute more than the $100 baseline, up to $200, helping to underwrite the minimum suggested registration fee of $25.
1 United Nations Environment Programme (2021). 2021 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction: Towards a Zero‑emission, Efficient and Resilient Buildings and Construction Sector. Nairobi. http://globalabc.org/
2 Ellis, L. D., Badel, A. F., Chiang, M. L., Park, R. J.-Y. & Chiang, Y.-M. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 117, 12584–12591 (2020).