Utilization of structural steel in buildings

M. C. Moynihan, J. M. Allwood

Over one-quarter of steel produced annually is used in the construction of buildings. Making this steel causes carbon dioxide emissions, which climate change experts recommend be reduced by half in the next 37 years. One option to achieve this is to design and build more efficiently, still delivering the same service from buildings but using less steel to do so. To estimate how much steel could be saved from this option, 23 steel-framed building designs are studied, sourced from leading UK engineering firms. The utilization of each beam is found and buildings are analysed to find patterns. The results for over 10 000 beams show that average utilization is below 50% of their capacity. The primary reason for this low value is ‘rationalization’—providing extra material to reduce labour costs. By designing for minimum material rather than minimum cost, steel use in buildings could be drastically reduced, leading to an equivalent reduction in ‘embodied’ carbon emissions.