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LOOPS is back! A throwback to episode 2!

On Wednesday 3rd of March, we streamed live our second episode of LOOPS, our live webinar series aimed at showcasing the cutting-edge technology and innovation delivered by the H2020-funded projects in the field of Circular Economy

This episode featured a discussion on the circularity potential within the construction industry. We had the pleasure to talk to the coordinators of HOUSEFUL and WOOL2LOOP, two H2020 projects committed to devising innovative circular solutions for waste management and resource efficiency in the building sector. Our speakers, Anne Kaiser and Dr. Sergio Martínez, highlighted the main key points of their work and gave us inspiring insights into the results achieved so far and the challenges that still lie ahead.

Let’s dive right into the projects!

Anne Kaiser and Wool2Loop:

The name says it all. Reintroducing the mineral wool waste in a closed loop. How? With advanced sorting, pre-treatment, and the groundbreaking technology of alkali activation. Our project speaker Anne Kaiser explains how challenging a task is to manage waste. Sustainability manager at Saint Gobain, the second world producer of construction materials, she points out that at the European level, 2.5 Mt of waste are estimated to end up in landfills, resulting in harmful environmental, economic and social implications.

You say a challenge? Well, “somebody has to take a step there”.

That’s the attitude behind the project. They do not fear challenge. They embrace it, by trying to divert wool waste from landfilling and reintroducing it in the loop in the form of tunable material, through the engagement of the whole value chain: from demolition, to commercialisation into the market. Novel avant-garde technology will be at the core of the innovation. Alkali-activation technology plays a pivotal role in making the circular loop possible and empowering the value creation process for new cement-like or ceramics-like materials. Things are not certain yet but predictions suggest that the carbon footprint of the new recycled materials will be up to 80% lower. What lies behind the project’s intent is the careful attention for the design of materials that are fit for purpose, as different typologies of the same material already exist. The key now is understanding the suitability of each of them for the purpose they are meant to fulfill.

“Of course, as in all things, not everything runs smoothly but with the right attitude, we can definitely make it work”.

In this regard, she concludes with a playful comment: “Professor Jones proves that the octopus is more intelligent than the cat, when tested under identical conditions”.

Up to you the interpretation.

Sergio Martínez and HOUSEFUL:

What HOUSEFUL proposes to do is linked to the strong will to increase the efficiency of a sector that is known to lack high standards in terms of environmental performance. Official data shows that nearly 10-15% of building materials are wasted during the construction phase and 54% of demolition materials are landfilled. Added to this are all those problems related to waste management in terms of valuable resources like water, energy and food. The big ambition here is overturning the dominant economic paradigm, by enabling a shift that will oust the current consumption model of ‘make, take, dispose’, to embrace one where energy can be profitably conserved, food waste externally managed and wastewater production efficiently reused. In other words, a model where the line is bended to achieve a circular shape.

Transition from a linear to a circular economy is being implemented at industrial scale but has not taken place at all levels. The aim of the HOUSEFUL project is innovatively challenging the current roots on which the housing sector is grounded, to adopt a circular approach that will holistically address all the issues related to waste management and resource efficiency. How? By providing an integrated system service composed of 11 circular solutions co-created by stakeholders in the current housing value chain. The lifetime of a building covers a minimum of 40-60 years and a poorly planned decision-making process can affect the whole functionality of it. Engineers, architects, technicians, academics, service providers are all expected to play and contribute to enhance the circular management and efficient use of waste, water, energy and material resources at all stages of European buildings’ life cycle: from design to construction, from refurbishment to final demolition. The final outcome will be presented in the form of an online software as a service (SaaS) – expected to be launched in the coming April – which will allow for the replication of the proposed circular solutions, as well as providing Economy Business Opportunities (CEBOs) for additional possible stakeholders. Spain and Austria will be the countries involved in the project, and 4 demo-sites have been picked up for the demonstration. The project, though, wants to go beyond the national borders. The ultimate objective is indeed that of entering the European scene, through the extention of the implemented solutions to additional European buildings, known as “follower-buildings”. We’ll stay tuned for future news.

Questioning our experts: the magic keywords

Awareness

Our expert Anne Kaiser acknowledges that one of the common challenges to recycling and re-using Construction and Demolition waste is the lack of confidence in the quality of C&D recycled materials. When asked to express her opinion, she stresses the importance of awareness, the importance of knowing what to do and what to aim at. Challenges are always present, especially considering how difficult it is to get into consumers’ mind and switch their mindset towards the possibility to live in a place made out of waste. On their side, Wool2loop believers are constantly making sure that every process is screened and tested and that health and safety for employees are always safeguarded. What they always keep in mind is ensuring that the recycled material will present a high quality worthy of its standard competitors.

Engagement

Faced with the lack of awareness on the circularity potential of the building sector that seems to characterise general stakeholders, Dr. Sergio Martínez, states that for the construction industry the cost and availability of materials hugely outweigh concerns of other sort, related to the selection and adoption of solutions aimed at fostering circularity, energy efficiency and water potential in the long-term. The tenants, for example, use to base their actions on bills, conceived to be the most important part for cost-saving purposes. But in order to be circular, innovation is required and savings must be redirected and addressed by considering the long-term benefits. Stakeholders are aligned with the old current standards, but it is common knowledge that in order to embrace new things and produce a radical change, engagement is always the key. The sector is lacking the right knowledge for potential circular solutions and this unawareness is what the HOUSEFUL project is meant to offset.

European architecture: a barrier or an opportunity?

Our speakers were put in the condition to reflect on the relevance and weight of the architectural preferences in hampering the extension of their projects to other urban realities. In this regard, HOUSEFUL projects will integrate solutions in four different demo-sites, specifically in Austria and Spain, that indeed represent tangible examples of the diverse architectural features of the European architectural ensemble. And as already mentioned, the potential replication of the solutions will then be exploited and applied to other buildings. Again, social engagement and cooperation are the intertwined concepts that are going to make it possible. Certainly, the path is not free of uncertainties. For a broader execution of the project, more reports and result-driven data are needed to explore different scenarios for the adoption and adaptation of the implemented solutions. From the WOOL2LOOP side, the new material will have a variety of applications in the building environment and, due to a more recent beginning of the project, its members are still trying to figure out which they could be. Even when a new building is created, it would be ideal to keep the materials in use and create furniture out of it.

The biggest satisfaction?

I’m surprised about how nice it is to bring the business perspective to the research academy. They have great ideas, but you have to size them down to what happens at the factory floor. The biggest achievement is that I made my colleagues believe in this project.”  —  Anne Kaiser

“At the beginning, you set very ambitious objectives. But then, thanks to all the engagement and commitment of the different partners in the development of the solutions, you realize that everything is possible. Everybody tries their best, and each individual knowledge and experience is there to inspire other ones. You feel part of the whole, an important contribution. Of course, you have to demonstrate a lot of things and consider all the existing barriers, but when you see all partners walking in the same direction, it gets very rewarding.” — Sergio Martínez

Thank you all for watching the webinar live and allowing the knowledge exchange from the research environment to the industrial one.

Our next webinar will take place on the 17th of March at 11 AM CET, and it will shed light on another big challenge of our current time: plastic waste and pollution. Do not miss out on the current solutions that are being devised to tackle such a big issue and boost a radical change to our world!

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