A new report from BRE Trust explores opportunities to address challenges in the built environment industry using blockchain technology.
Distributed Ledger Technology (of which blockchain is one application) is a digital record of the economic transactions or changes in the ownership of an asset. The information is shared and continually updated on a network of computers simultaneously, whilst secured through cryptography. This means that while allowing digital information to be distributed, but not copied, a blockchain is both transparent and incorruptible.
The new report, Blockchain – feasibility and opportunity assessment, draws insights from two workshops run by the BRE Trust in partnership with Constructing Excellence and industry professionals.
The issues it covers include:
- the potential for better ‘track and trace’ of products throughout their life cycles, to give a clear picture of where they came from, who supplied them and who installed them,
- the evolution of distributed energy systems to support more localised energy creation and use,
- the use of blockchain technology to help tackle modern slavery and human trafficking by creating more transparency in construction supply chains,
- connected districts and cities with the Internet of Things – blockchain technology offers a distributed system of registers, all of which are connected through a secure validation mechanism.
Dr Shamir Ghumra, Director of the Centre of Sustainable Products, said: “This report will help inform the current debate on Distributed Ledgers and Blockchains; there are many opportunities and synergies we can explore with this evolving technology for the betterment of the built environment itself but importantly we should see direct benefit and engagement with all parts of the value chain.”
The report presents how blockchain could be applied to a wide range of built environment sectors, but each potential application comes with questions and implications that warrant further investigation.
For example, in an industry that relies heavily on the regulation, certification and verification of products and services, the risk of human error when coding raises the question of whether a private or a public blockchain would be more appropriate. While both act as distributed peer-to-peer networks, private blockchains have organisations or governing bodies retaining control and verifying all users of the system. Artificial intelligence and sensing technologies could also help reduce the human-error risk factor, and provide a means of automatically certifying and verifying application processes.
Also, large public blockchains currently require huge amounts of energy to extract – ‘or mine’ – the information needed to create the blocks that are linked to form the chains. With an increased focus on optimum efficiency and sustainability, the built environment industry will need to find new solutions to address this issue.