a) The road to sustainability of the construction sector
The construction sector is fundamental for the national, European and global economy, as outlined in Horizon 2020. The socio-economic impact of the sector ranges from 7% in the most developed countries to near 20% in fast growing economies.
However, the traditional construction sector has an unequivocal problem in terms of sustainability. In the most advanced societies, the market for new construction has dramatically shrunk. The environmental impacts of this activity are recognizably high but efforts to minimize them have not been successful so far. The innovation of the sector has not matched that of other industries, namely automotive, naval and aerospace. Finally, at several levels, the personnel lack adequate education concerning the specific issue of sustainability.
Rehabilitation seems to be a solution to some of these problems. In advanced societies, such as those of most European countries, the population tends to stagnate and the economic levels are high and not increasing. Most of the built heritage has the potential to last much longer provided that it is subjected to proper maintenance and rehabilitation (M&R). Portugal is well behind in this issue, with incipient levels of M&R (~25% of the overall sector), which compare with over 40% of the EU average. The sector needs a new paradigm, for which education is one of the driving forces, together with the societal awareness of the problem.
b) The aim of the doctoral programme (DP)
The strategy of the DP comprises two steps: quantification of the problems; and definition of solutions. Based on this general approach, the programme will focus on the following main research domains within civil engineering: (i) life-cycle analysis; (ii) strategies for deconstruction, reuse and recycling; (iii) sustainable and durable materials/products; (iv) durability for sustainability; and (v) rehabilitation for safety, comfort and energy efficiency.
The concept of sustainability has recently been used and abused, based on preconceptions, marketing and a general lack of scientific demonstration. The purpose of domain (i) is to use quantitative methodologies and tools to actually measure the parameters that define sustainability in order to be able to choose the best solutions in terms of construction and rehabilitation. The impacts of the various alternatives are to be measured both in environmental/social terms (life-cycle assessment) and economic consequences (whole-life costs).
The other research domains concern the various steps of construction. Domain (ii) concerns the end of life and new beginning of materials, elements and assemblies. The programme aims at teaching strategies that go from materials recycling to global deconstruction, discussing the impacts and viability of the various alternatives. Domain (iii) concerns the educated choice of materials in order to maximize the benefits/costs ratio using the tools and methodologies taught in domain (i). At the stage of design and execution, domain (iv) intends to provide in depth training on the strategies to improve the durability of the built heritage, comprising concepts such as inspection, diagnosis, maintenance, service life prediction, rehabilitation, refurbishment and demolition. Domain (v) concerns the in service stage of construction and provides advanced training on strategies to design and rehabilitate engineering infrastructures in order to significantly reduce their ecological footprint, without compromising the technical and economic viability of the intervention.
c) Expected outcomes
The EU is pressing the construction sector with stringent legislation (e.g. Directives 2008/98/EC – Waste Framework – and 2010/31/EU – Nearly Zero-Energy Buildings) that will jeopardize the present status-quo of the sector. Firms will have to adapt quickly and the only way to do so is to have personnel with the right qualification and training abilities. The DP provides the construction market with highly qualified technicians in a very specific field, able to promote innovation and sustainability, by making well-founded decisions, which increase the competitiveness of the construction industry. The enforcement of the legislation mentioned above will tend to increase over time the need of the market for this specific profile of professionals.
The DP will produce doctoral graduates prepared for leading roles in both Industry and Academia, with entrepreneurship skills trained during the course of the programme. The programme improves the career prospects of the students, promoting both their professional and personal development.
The programme will attract high potential and motivated students with the right frame of mind to develop innovative ideas. Students are encouraged to publish their works in scientific forums and actively participate in research activities of the academic staff, namely within ongoing research projects or in preparation of new proposals.