As a category, buildings are among the biggest contributors sources of carbon emissions. When we don’t want them any more, it takes money and energy (hence even more emissions) to knock them down and deal with the demolition waste – especially troubling when the buildings are made of brick, concrete, or other masonry work.
Now what if there was a machine that could take all that stone-derived material and recycle it, right then and there? And what if the process was highly automated?
That was the thinking behind the ERO Concrete Deconstruction Robot, the brainchild of Omer Haciomeroglu, a student at Sweden’s Umea Institute of Design. The robot is designed to automatically scan a building’s structure and “erase” concrete walls where they stand. It leaves behind clean and dust-free rebar (the underlying metal scaffolding that gives concrete structures added strength) undamaged and ready to either be recycled or used as-is in other buildings. In other words, it would massively reduce demolition waste.
Think what something like this could have done in helping to clear some of the devastation from the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the one-two punch earthquake and tsunami that rocked Japan in 2011, or the the earthquake this month in Gansu province, China.
The robot works by blasting a high-pressure water jet onto sections of concrete and sucking up the resulting slurry. Separation of aggregate and cement takes place inside the machine – instead of carting off rubble to a remote recycling facility, as currently happens. The elegance of Haciomeroglu’s design is that it combines the work of many vehicles and specialized machines into one, using a fraction of the energy.
Right now the robot is just a concept, but don’t be surprised if you see something like it on a demolition site in the near future. Haciomeroglu’s design represents the synthesis of numerous technologies and painstaking research he performed in consulting with various industry professionals. You get an idea for how much work went into the project by reading through his online explanation of the ERO’s many features.
This isn’t the first time someone’s gotten the idea to make concrete construction greener. Mobile crushing plants for breaking up and sorting old concrete and asphalt on-site are fairly common. And quite a few folks have taken stabs at making the concrete itself closer to carbon neutral.
And yet, Haciomeroglou’s creation was deemed innovative enough to snag a “gold” in the 2013 International Design Excellence Awards from the Industrial Designers Society of America.
We can think of one possible downside to machines built in the spirit of the ERO Deconstruction Robot. When they do inevitably arrive, they will spell the end of lots of construction-industry jobs. Public works and building projects (and the demolition that goes with them) have been a traditional way to jumpstart economies by putting people back to work. But if robots can do those jobs faster, cheaper, and more cleanly (not to mention more safely – construction work is one of the most hazardous occupations), should people be doing them at all any more? That’s a whole conversation by itself, but one to consider as we marvel at technology’s prowess.
What do you think? Are robots that efficiently assemble and dismantle buildings worth it for the reduced demolition waste and green benefits – or should those types of tasks be reserved for people to perform?