We used a thermodynamic framework to characterize the resource consumption of the construction sector in 2001 in Catalonia, the northeast region of Spain. The analysis was done with a cradle-to-product life cycle approach using material flow analysis (MFA) and exergy accounting methodologies to quantify the total material and energy inputs in the sector. The aim was to identify the limitations of resource metabolism in the sector and to pinpoint the opportunities for improved material selection criteria, processing, reuse, and recycling for sustainable resource use. The results obtained from MFA showed that nonrenewables such as minerals and natural rocks, cement and derivatives, ceramics, glass, metals, plastics, paints and other chemicals, electric and lighting products, and bituminous mix products accounted for more than 98% of the input materials in the construction sector. The exergy analysis quantified a total 113.1 petajoules (PJ) of exergy inputs in the sector; utilities accounted for 57% of this exergy.
Besides exergy inputs, a total of 6.85 million metric tons of construction and demolition waste was generated in 2001. With a recycling rate of 6.5%, the sector recovered 1.3 PJ of exergy. If the sector were able to recycle 80% of construction and demolition waste, then exergy recovery would be 10.3 PJ. Hence the results of this analysis indicate that improvements are required in manufacturing processes and recycling activities, especially of energy-intensive materials, in order to reduce the inputs of utilities and the extraction of primary materials from the environment.