6 Months to 6 Minutes: Astonishingly Fast Embodied Carbon Assessment

iTwin Experience can access LCA and EC3 without manual input or a single line of code.

Bentley Systems has sponsored this post.

Embodied carbon impact calculation from EC4 visualized in iTwin Experience. Design elements are color coded based on the severity of realized embodied carbon. (Image: Bentley Systems.)

Embodied carbon impact calculation from EC3 visualized in iTwin Experience. Design elements are color coded based on the severity of realized embodied carbon. (Image: Bentley Systems.)

Bentley Systems announced the release of software that will make it easier for architects and designers to assess embodied carbon at the Environment Analyst Global Business Summit held in Chicago last June. The timing of the event could not have been better. The month that followed was the hottest July ever recorded. Never has the environment needed such urgent attention.

Representing Bentley Systems at the Business Summit was Rodrigo Fernandes, Director of ES(D)G, who presented the analysts with details of the new embodied carbon assessment capabilities included in Bentley’s iTwin Experience, which is able to interface easily with embodied carbon calculator EC3. For the first time iTwin will allow infrastructure professionals to automatically generate embodied carbon calculation reports and impact analyses without the need to code or develop proprietary iTwin-powered apps. Using the automated tools, the industry will be better able to iterate through design choices since carbon assessment will be done significantly faster and manual data entry will be eliminated.

Bentley’s iTwin Platform has been able to initiate embodied carbon report generation since 2022 for viewing on One Click LCA or EC3 (Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator). But what’s new is that iTwin Experience is now bidirectionally integrated with EC3 and for the first time, carbon assessments can be visualized in 3D on a digital twin – without writing a line of code.

Having to code (proprietary iTwin-powered apps) denies access to most engineers and even a higher portion of architects and builders. It’s only independent software vendors (ISVs) and big AEC firms that have developers on staff who are able to write their own apps leveraging API such as iTwin Platform.

To do this, iTwin Experience exports a data model to EC3, which performs the embodied carbon calculations and returns results to iTwin Experience without manual effort being needed to import, export, or program.

A “preview” version of these embodied carbon capabilities in iTwin Experience is now available to select Bentley partners and early adopters.

The new capabilities in iTwin Experience transform what is typically a six-month process into a six-minute workflow. (Image: Bentley Systems.)

The new capabilities in iTwin Experience transform what is typically a six-month process into a six-minute workflow. (Image: Bentley Systems.)

Mark Tablante, Design Technology Director with Burns & MacDonnell and one of the carbon assessment tool’s early adopters, says it makes perfect sense for companies that are considering electrification.

Electrification is key to the world’s decarbonization goals, says Tablante, and with all the capital investment needed in electric transmission and distribution infrastructure, using carbon-assessment during their design for the infrastructure itself is a great way to start the decarbonization that, once in use, the infrastructure will continue.

A Conversation with Rodrigo Fernandes

Fernandes firmly believes that the time to act on climate change is now. The message that he delivered at the Environment Analyst Global Business Summit was that everybody should contribute what they can. One relevant example of Bentley’s contribution would be the iTwin Experience. With it, AEC firms could much more easily assess embodied carbon of a building or structure in the design phase.

We called Fernandes to find out how his message was received, and we talked to him in Lisbon, Portugal. We ask about the weather, and given the nature of events in Europe, it is hardly small talk.

Portugal is being spared the extreme heat gripping most of the south of Europe, including Italy, Spain and Greece, the latter with fires that called for evacuating 30,000 people, the most ever in a wildfire evacuation in Greek history.

Fernandes finds that, on the whole, the United States is not as united as Europe in recognizing that global climate change is a problem. He sees a nation polarized, with one group seeing no cause for alarm.

“In Europe, we spend more time discussing what needs to be done for the environment. There is an urgency and general consensus around climate and decarbonization. We all agree on the problem. What we don’t agree on is the way to solve it. For instance, in France, they might give a higher priority to nuclear power. Germany doesn’t think nuclear is the way to go. The countries have autonomy to follow their own path. In the U.S., there seems to be  a discussion of whether or not a problem exists.”

Being an international crusader for the environment requires Fernandes’ position to have three roles: One, to bridge the gap between industry needs and Bentley’s products and services. Two, to create a culture of sustainability within the Bentley organization. And lastly, to evangelize to its users, the industry and the media not only about the existence of a problem but also its urgency – and how some organizations are already acting toward future-proofing infrastructure.

Bentley: We Have the Solutions

Perhaps no company other than Bentley has all the solutions to design infrastructure (when most of the embodied carbon is determined), track its construction, monitor its maintenance, assess its performance and govern its use (when operational carbon is expended) all the way to the end – when the infrastructure is decommissioned.

No other software company has the iTwin Platform, explains Fernandes.

“Our strategy is based on the iTwin Platform, which is an open approach to infrastructure digital twins. It allows us to mix and blend, to mix and aggregate models and data from multiple vendors and products. It’s vendor agnostic. Instead of working separately with each data format or with each product, we can get them all at once. That can save a tremendous amount of time.”

From Six Months to Six Minutes

The way that iTwin can read a BIM drawing and get quantity takeoffs and use EC3 to calculate the carbon embodied in a building is breathtaking. The data that EC3 needed to do an embodied carbon calculation came from different sources and had to be entered manually.

“We have users who are moving from taking six months to now only needing six minutes. We can do this by simply automating the process of aggregating all the data, generating the bills of material or quantity takeoffs from the infrastructure projects and then facilitating the workflow with the carbon calculator. They are not our calculators. They are from organizations that are subject-matter experts in carbon calculations,” he says.

“Together, we are enabling users to do more with less. They can handle many more projects in less time. That is one of the things we spoke about at the Global Business Summit. Sustainability professionals are feeling a lot of pressure from the infrastructure world. But we have a talent shortage in engineering and sustainability. Firms struggle to handle all the projects that are becoming available. Any tool that facilitates and accelerates the process of delivering projects for infrastructure is welcomed.”

Another benefit comes from the ease with which carbon calculations can be done. Instead of doing carbon calculations once after a design to satisfy project requirements, they can be done during the design. Users can iterate on a design. They can change shapes to reduce material, for example, or change the material itself. Making changes to the design with one eye on the total carbon embodied will help minimize embodied carbon rather than simply account for it – as is understandably the case when the accounting for carbon requires months to calculate.

Despite the tremendous time savings, he is claiming, users need not be afraid of the disruption in their workflow that disruptive technology can often bring.

“We talk a lot about disruptive technology,” Fernandes says. “We may be disrupting the solution, but we are not doing it with big new technology. We are not doing anything that is not already available in the market in terms of existing technologies. It is innovation more than disruption. And it’s here now. You don’t have to wait for the next big thing to start fighting climate change. You can start now with what we have. We have so many users already achieving results. That is what makes it an easy life. I can pick up stories from our users, [and] show what they do for climate action.”

Bentley is giving every sign that their concern is to make carbon calculation easy for all to use, as their contribution to the climate crisis. But the company, now listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange, also has an obligation to investors. What, if anything, is the plan to profit from this nondisruptive but totally necessary application?

“Right now, we are in early adoption mode,” says Fernandes. “Users don’t need to pay to use it. It’s an opportunity for us to get feedback from users. This will be for a limited time. How much is this going to cost is a discussion we need to have with the users and with feedback from the market. Then we can position this in the business model. We are a business company, right? Sure, that’s really important. But we feel that we have a technology with great power in our hands that can help users. So, we want to make sure that they use it and that we are on the right path. Then we’ll figure out how to capitalize on it.”

If you want to know more about the possibility of integrating the Early Access Program, please reach out directly to Rodrigo Fernandes on LinkedIn.

You can find more about iTwin Experience embodied carbon assessment here and here, and through Bentley Systems’ Empowering Sustainable Development Goals stories of impact.