What is the TLC2 Centre of Excellence at IITM?

Technologies for Low Carbon and Lean Construction (TLC2) is a Centre of Excellence here at IIT Madras that focuses on reducing the carbon footprint of one of the most carbon intensive industries in the world: the Construction Industry. With a share of over 30% of global carbon emissions annually, the industry is in need of reform. From the very material that goes into construction all the way to the processes that go into it, TLC2 aims to address inefficiencies through data driven research and innovation.

Through a three pronged approach, TLC2 aims to build an ecosystem for low carbon and lean construction methods:

  • Low Carbon: Annually, around 25 gigatons of concrete is used in construction, most of it originating from unsustainable limestone quarries. With the danger of depleting resources looming ahead, it is pertinent to look for alternatives. Through its research, TLC2 has identified non-conventional ‘supplementary cementitious materials’ that can substitute as much as 30% of pure cement without any compromise on strength, durability or safety of structures. The alternatives sourced are generally byproducts of other industries, such as fly-ash from thermal power plants or blast furnace slag from the steel industry. An avenue that TLC2 finds very promising in an agrarian country like India is the addition of biomass ash as filler material for cement. Along with alternatives, recycled concrete is a promising solution TLC2 explores. Through its testbeds, the team identifies, separates and thermomechanically decomposes used concrete to its virgin form. In a major breakthrough, the team successfully achieved thermal beneficiation of concrete through solar power, a feat never accomplished before globally. The team plans to develop scalable solutions for the same.
  • Lean Construction: Another focus area of TLC2 is lean construction, which aims to optimize the logistics and processes involved in construction to minimize environmental impact. By streamlining workflows, reducing idle time, and utilizing computational techniques and robotics, lean construction helps cut down on energy wastage and improves efficiency. Traditional construction practices aim to maximize productivity of individual processes which ultimately leads to bottlenecks down the line. Lean construction is a paradigm shift from the norm that observes the entire construction process as a single exercise. With each member working in harmony, processes are optimized with a more holistic approach. Though this is not an alien concept, TLC2 aims at making it more suited for the needs of a developing country such as ours, and eventually scaling it to sister industries. Through Global Positioning systems as well as drone surveillance, TLC2 identifies the most efficient pathways of transportation of materials from source to site, as well as alternative aggregate hotspots.
  • Policy Making: The technologies being highlighted are not novel by any means. While the team works to further their insights on the impact of their research, without a flexible policy framework, innovation would stay confined within the walls of the lab. Currently, lack of enforcement as well as guidelines makes constructors reluctant to adopt change simply due to the economic feasibility and complexity of adopting change. Through data driven engagement with Central and State agencies, TLC2 justifies its cause.

Currently, TLC2 supports numerous projects and collaborates with industry leaders and startups to further its influence in the field. ‘Build tech’ a niche startup field deals with manufacturing of low carbon construction materials and methods. From ‘Tvasta’, a startup that 3D prints cement houses, to a foldable house startup called ‘Modulus Housing’, TLC2 encourages as well as mentors small players. It has engaged with the construction giant L&T to develop a low cement foundation for the Ram Ayodhya Temple with long service life. It also implemented lean construction with Godrej in their high rise building projects in Mumbai.

Through its annual showcase, ‘TLC2 Week’, the center exhibits its latest research, from 3D printing technologies, to AR/VR topographical analysis. Industry participation in the event sensitizes major players to the research being displayed. Testbed setups, both physical and computational help users visualize the lean construction process better and build trust and understanding for the same.

Globally, while low carbon and lean construction are looked at as separate fields, TLC2 aims to develop an interdisciplinary framework that rests on scientifically proven methods and practices. Its near term goals include pushing the envelope on supplementary materials and life cycle analysis not only for individual construction projects, but also for city wide projects. Through simulation of inter-city interactions, it aims to radicalize city planning and development as we know it. With backing from policymakers and updating of codes and practices, there is big scope for change. Through a proposed ‘green rating’ of construction projects, governments can incentivize the use of low carbon and lean construction. Through its goal to build a sustainable construction ecosystem, TLC2 envisions a brighter future.