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Urban waste could be employed for the production of secondary raw materials

In Europe, the construction sector accounts for one-third of all EU waste, one-third of all water consumed, makes up for the largest share of the total EU final energy consumption

In Europe, the construction sector generates about 9 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employs eighteen million people. It accounts for one-third of all EU waste, one-third of all water consumed, makes up for the largest share of the total EU final energy consumption (40percent), and produces about 35percent of all greenhouse emissions. Globally, according to OECD estimates, the construction sector is expected to double between 2017 and 2060, and so will its use of materials, leading to about eighty-four Gt of construction materials used per year in 2060. With the Climate Crisis and urbanization approaching, the construction sector faces a challenge: how to make the reduction of its environmental impact go hand in hand with rational use of resources and economic growth? The UN data shows that 55 percent of the human population lives in metropolitan areas, which is expected to rise to 68 percent by 2050. Projections show that urbanization joined with the general growth of the world population could add another 2.5 billion individuals to urban areas by 2050. 

In line with these numbers, these zones are expanding. Most of the construction activities occur in urban and peri-urban areas, which produce large quantities of different types of waste currently unused, such as the ones generated by the construction sector, municipal services, and other industries. This urban waste could be employed to produce secondary raw materials, whose employment in construction works would maximize the value of recovered materials, reduce the demand for virgin materials and the production of waste, creating an opportunity for circular business for construction companies. Said businesses face difficulties when trying to implement a circular approach that involves using secondary raw materials (SRM), as they often lack the necessary business practices, technologies, and specialized knowledge. Other barriers are the abundance of low-priced virgin materials in some European regions, poor trust, low acceptance concerning the use of SRM-based construction products, the lack of appropriate legislation, and established administrative procedures. 

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Cinderela demo, phosphorous extraction as a step in a cascading recycling of sewage sludge as SRM

Cinderela is testing the way Circular Economy can be implemented in wastewater management in collaboration with the AMS Institute and Delft University of technology. They opened a laboratory, housed in a refurbished shipping container, with two toilet bowls, a bioreactor, and a rotary evaporator. Municipal sludge, which is formed after residual wastewater treatment, can be a source of secondary raw materials for construction with appropriate processing. With the current wastewater management practices, many components that are necessary for our food-cycle end up in municipal sludge. At this demonstration plant, located at the Marineterrein Amsterdam Living Lab (MALL), Nitrogen and Phosphorus are recovered from urine before ending up in municipal wastewater. The entire waste is treated by removing micropollutants, pathogens, and foul odor, and a liquid high-grade organic fertilizer is created. 

To face these issues and aid the construction companies who are willing to exploit urban waste untapped potential, Cinderela develops and demonstrates a circular economy business model dedicated to the urban construction sector called CinderCEBM. Cinderela also created the CinderOSS to make the use of SRM-based construction products resulting from CinderCEBM more straightforward for the target users, like companies and local administrations. This One-Stop-Shop service provides evidence-based knowledge on the production and use of circular construction materials in construction works, and news and updates on the research and development of existing and upcoming recycling and construction technologies. On top of that, they offer a platform that fosters collaborations between potential colleagues, clients, and other likely partners. 

Information is key to developing circular business models in construction. Entrepreneurs need reliable data not only on the sources of SRM but also on the overall business environment in which the business model is to operate and the benefits and limitations they may experience. To provide them with the needed tools, CINDERELA has created and tested a methodology of surveying the waste-to-resource potential that considers every one of these perspectives. «The material flow analysis (MFA) performed in Spain, Slovenia, and the Netherlands, allows us to identify materials with economic potential that can be used for recycled aggregates like green concrete», says Sebastjan Meža (Ph.D.), 6th work package leader. This analysis, which can be used for environmental impact assessments, is performed using an open-source and GIS supported tool GDSE (Geodesign Decision Support Environment). Customized to fit the MFA of different urban waste streams as sources of secondary raw materials. This tool enables predicting optimal waste-to-product solutions based on waste availability, quantity, and location, and provides information on the administrations, owners, and managers involved. «A key characteristic of these materials is that they are not hazardous: their use poses no threat to the environment».

«After the lab tests, new technologies, like our SRM-based construction products, need to be implemented in a real environment to see how they behave. For this reason, we will test and demonstrate them through pilots in Maribor, Skopje, and Madrid. Where we will build roads and facilities with SRM-based construction products». There, they will employ different types of waste, such as remains from the treatment of municipal wastes and industrial wastes that will be turned in into SRM-based construction products, like recycled and manufactured aggregates, recycled soil, and building composites.  

For the CiderCEBM, waste streams have been identified, and potential urban waste has been selected by applying end-of-waste technical criteria based on the materials’ intended use. Aggregates were subjected to various analyses. Standard chemical and mechanical tests were performed on white and black slag to make sure that it was possible to use said materials in road construction, and the white slag, in particular also as a partial replacement for cement in concrete mixtures for the production of blocks. For foundation slabs, base concrete, concrete in the walls of the ground floor, attic, and terrace walls, they will use alternative mixtures that have been prepared and are now ready and waiting to be tested in laboratories. To support all phases of construction, from the preliminary planning to the facility management and deconstruction, the Building Information Modeling (BIM) tool will be utilized. A case study analysis, quantity take-offs, and 6D facilities maintenance will be performed. These test results will not only help to design the modular and mobile pilot production plants for recycled and manufactured aggregates, building composite materials and recycled soils in the large-scale demos in Slovenia and Spain, but they will also enrich the BIM library.

Using a life cycle approach including LCA and related methods, such as Social LCA and Life Cycle Costing, the CinderCEBM will be assessed to ensure that this business model provides economic and environmental, and social added value. The environmental performance of the SRM based construction materials will be evaluated using the Environmental Technology Verification (ETV) scheme. These assessments facilitate SRM- based construction products’ marketability; by confirming their innovation, performance, and the environmental benefits. They also allow a comparison between the new solutions proposed in CinderCEBM and the current “linear economy” model in terms of environmental-soundness and sustainability, economic viability, and social implications. The Cinderela project will contribute to a 20 percent reduction of the environmental impact in the value and supply chain by reducing the use of virgin materials and facilitating waste transformation into products.

Adopting sustainable construction methods requires knowledge, time, and financial investments. Nonetheless, data from The World Green Building Trends 2018 Smart Market Report reveals that despite the barriers, green building is still growing globally, with nearly half of respondents expecting to do the majority of their work green by 2021. With the pull of the market and the push of regulations acting as the main triggers for this change. CinderCEBM and CinderOSS can help construction companies and administrations to keep up with the time by taking part in the transition towards a green economy and society through eco-innovation. 

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Cinderela is a Slovenian project whose goal is to make the urban construction sector more resource-efficient. It is co-financed and implemented under the flagship of the Horizon 2020 European Financial Program and coordinated by the Slovenian National Building and Civil Engineering Institute (ZAG).


Slovenian National Building and Civil Engineering Institute
Dimičeva ulica 12, SI 1000
Ljubljana, Slovenia

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