When you think of bustling cities like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh, or Doha, you imagine towering skyscrapers and malls resembling modern souqs.
Architectural marvels including Burj Khalifa, Makkah’s Clock Tower, and Doha’s Aspire Tower define the middle eastern cityscapes. Construction sites along the way to the offices highlight the growth of Dubai’s real estate sector. Qatar is building new stadiums, hotels, and public spaces for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and Saudi Arabia has grand plans for NEOM.
We’ve heard about the human and financial costs of the Middle East’s mega projects. But what about the environmental cost?
It may not pollute our oceans like plastic, but concrete is one of the worst pollutants. If you look at the manufacturing process, cement causes more pollution than gas-guzzling trucks by emitting carbon, dust particles, and methane.
Clusters of skyscrapers in Middle Eastern cities absorb sunlight and trap heat, making global warming worse. Yet the only solution to tackle higher temperatures caused by climate change seems to be building more closed, air-conditioned spaces.
So, what are the alternatives that reduce water consumption, use of cement, and don’t drive up costs for developers?
Green buildings, which create more renewable energy than they consume, could be a viable option, but there’s a catch. We often ignore that emissions caused by construction are higher than those from a building in its entire lifetime. The amount of energy green buildings are expected to save will take 30 to 40 years, but construction is damaging the planet.
Besides concrete, steel rods are key components that hold buildings together, but emissions from their production are disintegrating the environment. The manufacturing process for a ton of steel releases two tons of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. Damage can be reduced by replacing fossil fuels with hydrogen for producing metals. The UAE and Saudi Arabia are on track to extract green hydrogen by separating hydrogen molecules from the water via solar-powered electrolysis.
As the cost of natural gas and renewable energy fall with time and coal gets more expensive, green steel is becoming a viable option to cut construction costs.
Is there anything that can’t be created using a 3D printer, from auto parts to human organs and even vegan meat? This technology is revolutionizing every industry and is even building massive villas in the Middle East. To start with, 3D printing does away with tons of construction waste. Once the design is finalized, the printer knows exactly how much material is needed. It also leads to savings by cutting down transportation costs for different components, which can print on-site.
Beyond this, 3D printed construction reduces labor costs since only three people are enough to build an entire house.
There are alternatives to making construction in the Middle East eco-friendly, but first, authorities need to identify the sector’s carbon footprint. This needs to be followed by strict legislation enforcing the use of green materials, like the one adopted in Dubai.
Developers must be aware of the long-term cost benefits of metals and cement created using renewable energy or recycled waste. Planting more trees won’t help unless emissions from concrete jungles are cut down.