Tracking the material cycle of Italian bricks with the aid of building information modeling

Thomas E. Graedel and 6 other contributors

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    Clay brick masonry is a vernacular construction technique; it continues to be used extensively in Italy and elsewhere. Despite the essential role clay bricks play in construction, they are often overlooked in the environmental literature, and sound production data are hard to obtain. This study integrates material flow analysis (MFA) and building information modeling (BIM) to assess the quantity and use cases of clay bricks and terracotta tiles used for construction in Italy. Material flows for these products were traced from the supply of raw materials to manufacturing, use, demolition, and waste management in Italy in 2006, 2011, and 2016. 3D representations of typical buildings were drawn in BIM and used to create material intensities to investigate functional uses of bricks. Hollow bricks used as infills in external walls and load-bearing bricks were the main products manufactured in all three years of analysis, followed by bricks used in internal walls and floor-forming bricks. In all cases, maintenance and refurbishment of existing buildings was the primary end-use category. From 2006 to 2016, the Italian brick production shrank fourfold, from 20.6 Tg to 5.1 Tg, while direct carbon dioxide emissions from the calcination of calcium carbonate decreased from 2.4 Tg to 0.5 Tg. Functional recycling is rare, and this poses serious challenges to the circularity of the construction sector. The results demonstrate that the integration of MFA and BIM approaches markedly improves the detail, speed, and realism of quantifying the material flows within the urban environment. This article met the requirements for a Gold-Gold JIE data openness badge described at