The construction industry is one of the largest waste producers in Europe and is responsible for about ten percent of CO2 emissions. An international consortium wants to change this through innovative circular economy solutions. The Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und -prüfung (BAM) is contributing its expertise on the recycling of building materials to "Reincarnate".
The average lifespan of a building in Europe is just under 40 years, then it is demolished. The reason is often what is known as functional obsolescence: if a building or even just part of it is to be put to a new or changed use, the necessary information on the original construction method is lacking for approval. Thus, the decision is usually made in favour of demolition and complete reconstruction.
This practice results in a large amount of construction and demolition waste, which accounts for 25-30 percent of all waste in Europe. It is true that the recycling rate with 75 percent in this sector appears high at first glance. But most construction waste is used in road construction and is no longer usable for the circular economy. Valuable components such as plaster partition walls, windows and façade elements usually end up in landfills.
The large-scale European project "Reincarnate", funded by the EU's Horizon Europe research and innovation programme, has set itself the goal of changing this unsustainable use of resources. Reincarnate" brings together 16 multidisciplinary organisations from eight countries, including industrial companies, universities, non-profit organisations and research institutes such as BAM.
"We want to anchor the idea of the circular economy in the European construction industry and significantly extend the life cycle of buildings, construction products and materials through innovative solutions. In the long term, this would reduce construction waste by 80 percent and the CO2 footprint of the construction sector by 70 percent," explains Sabine Kruschwitz, an expert in material characterisation and informatics for sustainability in construction at BAM and also a junior professor at the Technische Universität Berlin, who is supporting her colleague Prof. Timo Hartmann there in coordinating the research project.
Over the next four years, "Reincarnate" will present ten innovative approaches to solutions on a digital platform and at the same time test their effectiveness on concrete examples. For example, digital inspection tools, robotics and automation will be used to assess the reuse potential of buildings and building materials, which is usually still done manually today. The recycling potential of building materials is to be recorded in databases and linked to planning tools used by architects and engineers, so that it can already be taken into account during the design phase. Long-term urban development forecasts are also to be included in the construction process, which can help to avoid planning errors.
BAM is contributing its expertise in the evaluation of recycled building materials to "Reincarnate", which is based on data-driven modelling approaches and machine learning. In addition, Sabine Kruschwitz and her team want to develop test methods that can be automated to assess the condition of easily recyclable building components such as plaster partition walls. The information is also to be made usable in databases for actors in the building industry. "Reincarnate is a highly relevant project in terms of social and climate policy that can provide a significant impulse for more sustainability in the European building sector," says Sabine Kruschwitz.
The "Reincarnate" solution approaches are being tested in concrete terms in the renovation and conversion of Tempelhof Airport, one of the largest construction projects currently underway in Berlin.
This article was first published on 20 July by BAM.