Startup makes pre-fab high rises like Boeing makes airplanes, aiming to reduce emissions

FAN Editor

Assembly OSM is a modular construction startup that operates more like a car or airplane manufacturer than a traditional builder. As a result, it claims it can cut more carbon emissions than even the greenest builders at work today.

Real estate accounts for 40% of global carbon emissions if you include the entire process from construction through operation and the inevitable destruction. Cutting the time it takes to build a building and the number of workers and vehicles needed on site can help reduce those emissions. Unlike other pre-fab builders, which largely do low rises, Assembly it is focused on high-rise buildings between 10 and 30 stories high. That will offer the biggest impact on both the current housing shortage and climate change.

“We’re actually using the tools of aerospace to design these buildings. So we’re modeling the buildings at a much higher degree of detail,” explained CEO Andrew Staniforth.

The four-year-old company the same software as Boeing for design and constructing the buildings in pieces in multiple, specialized factories.

“We actually look at the way that cars and airplanes are built, where they have really robust distributed supply chains,” said Staniforth. “Where people in the aerospace industry make wings and engines and the fuselage, we have people that make bathroom pods, kitchen pods, floors, walls and ceilings and then we assemble them in our facility like this and just clip them together.”

A rendering of a future building by Assembly OSM.

Source: Assembly OSM

The offsite assembly reduces the number of fuel burning trucks needed onsite, thereby reducing those emissions by 70%, the company claims. The buildings themselves are made both lighter and tighter, hereby reducing later emissions from heating and cooling. Overall, it claims achieve 30-40% less embodied carbon throughout the building lifecycl.

Unlike other modular home builders such as Katerra, which filed for bankruptcy last year, Assembly uses a large network of suppliers and manufacturers in different places, rather than building in one specific factory.

“While it may look like just another modular construction company, I think it’s a sea change,” said Matt Higgins, CEO and cofounder of RSE Ventures, one of the company’s investors. “You’re talking about an industry that is very resistant to change, innovation, dominated by entrenched players. What the team at assembly is doing is borrowing technology from aerospace to automotive industry, and basically, almost starting from scratch. It’s similar to what Tesla did, and what Elon Musk did.”

Assembly’s costs are about the same as traditional construction, but it is faster. That’s what the market is now demanding.

“Really around embodied carbon, how the buildings operate over the lifecycle – a lot of these nice-to-haves have now turned very quickly into need-to-haves for developers in major urban markets,” said Staniforth.

The company is focused first on apartments and hotels and expects to build its first projects in New York City, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Los Angeles.

Assembly OSM’s backers include Fifth Wall Climate, Jefferies Group, Manta Ray Ventures, FJ labs, RSE ventures, and Signia Venture Partners. It’s raised $62 million.

 CNBC climate producer Lisa Rizzolo contributed to this piece.

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