Concrete is widely used as a construction material, but it has a substantial environmental impact. When a building is demolished, what happens to all the concrete? Tampere University, Finland, is coordinating a new international project which aims to discover how used concrete elements can be deconstructed without damaging them and reused in new buildings – and to turn the process into a profitable business. The four-year project has received €12.5 million (approximately AUD 19.7 million) of funding under the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme.
Concrete has been the world’s most commonly used building material for at least half a century. It accounts for the majority of both construction materials and demolition waste. In Europe, many concrete buildings are built with precast concrete elements. If the old elements could be reused instead of manufacturing new ones, it would bring major benefits for the environment.
“By reusing concrete elements, we can save an enormous amount of energy and raw materials,” says Satu Huuhka, adjunct professor at the Faculty of Built Environment at Tampere University, who is leading the new international ReCreate project.
The project seeks to find new uses for the concrete elements of condemned buildings in the construction of new buildings.
It involves universities and regional company clusters in four countries: Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Germany. All the country clusters will carry out their own pilot projects where they deconstruct precast concrete elements intact and reuse them in a new building.
“We are specifically looking to reuse the concrete elements as a whole, not as a raw material for something new,” Huuhka points out.
Tapping into Finland’s world-class expertise
Researchers at the Faculty of Built Environment have been conducting ground-breaking research into the circular economy in the construction sector for a decade now.
In addition, long-term research on renovation and the lifecycle engineering of structures provides a solid foundation for the development of quality assurance procedures that will ensure the safety and integrity of the reused elements.
This time, the researchers are set to explore not only the technical implementation of the solutions but also the business perspective.
“There are many questions to be answered. How do we deconstruct the elements from buildings without damaging them? How do we assess their structural integrity? How do we recertify the salvaged elements and turn them into a product that meets building code requirements? Since the elements are not of uniform quality, how can we turn this into a viable business? We must also consider the social aspects: does the process require new skills or new ways of working?” Huuhka asks.
Tampere University researchers will also bring to the project their specialist expertise in circular economy business models, building regulations and law, and occupational sociology.
The Finnish country cluster comprises Tampere University, construction company Skanska, demolition company Umacon, precast concrete company Consolis Parma, engineering and consultancy company Ramboll, architecture firm Liike Oy Arkkitehtistudio and the City of Tampere.