Sustainability is a popular and important issue facing designers, builders, and building owners. However, recent developments have shown that programs such as LEED assessments do not always reveal the correct or best decisions about material selection or building strategies. The more appropriate but more rigorous method is "Life Cycle Assessment" or LCA, where a material's total cradle to grave environmental impact is compared to an alternative. These exercises are complicated and project-specific. For example, a product's weight often plays a significant role in impacts like transportation, installation, and backup structure. All these factors vary from project to project, and measuring all these factors is usually beyond the scope of most conventional construction projects.
Since 2009, Kreysler & Associates has worked with Stanford University's School of Environmental Engineering to compare FRP systems to other materials in given situations. We compared an aquarium tank made of FRP to one made of shotcrete. Next, we looked at GFRC vs. FRP for a large rain screen project in Eastern Europe and limestone vs. FRP/polymer concrete building ornament replicas for a rehabilitation project in San Francisco. Next, we measured the impact of FRP reflective acoustic panels on a new concert hall at Stanford vs. an alternative concrete system at the EMPAC Performing Arts and Media Center in Troy, NY. Finally, we compare a large FRP sunshade to a float glass alternative and another GFRC rainscreen to a new, highly fire-resistant FRP system for the SFMOMA facade.
We've been surprised at the results. For example, things like stainless steel anchors, the type of particle board used for mold making, and the effect of sandblasting a surface instead of sanding it have played significant roles in these studies. Intuition suggests that FRP would not be a "green" solution since it comes from petroleum. Surprisingly, however, this assumption is nearly always wrong. Although we have not always been the "greener" alternative, it has never been because of the FRP material. In the two cases where the study suggested the alternate to FRP was better, it had more to do with our choices about mold-making material, anchors, and structural support. However, one important factor to keep in mind is that these are student studies, not professional peer-reviewed papers. However, they have carefully developed reports using state-of-the-art technology, ISO standards, and up-to-date data. If you have specific questions, please let us know, and we'll do our best to answer.