REBUILD - REgenerative BUILDings and products for a circular economy

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bradford
Department Name: Faculty of Management and Law


In a circular economy value is created by keeping products and materials 'in flow' through effective recirculation and re-use to optimise their highest economic potential and minimise the use of virgin materials and external environmental costs. New construction and existing building stocks present the highest potential for circular economy innovation, value retention and creation opportunities, estimated to be worth approximately Euro 450 - 600M p.a. Innovation in the reclamation of currently hard to re-use building products - concrete, steel, brick, from end of service life (EOSL) buildings and their remanufacture into new modular products for new builds which would then be designed for future deconstruction, is therefore a major economic opportunity.

REBUILD proposes that materials are directly reused and remanufactured into new builds with minimal re-processing. The project proposes a new circular economy system to address key barriers in the current linear approaches to demolition and new building construction, and build capabilities and tools to create significant new value by the early adoption of novel technologies, high value remanufacture, new system arrangements and the scaling up good practices. The magnitude of the opportunity is considerable. Existing buildings were not designed for adaptation, dis-assembly, or high value reuse. Therefore, the current option is to demolish them when they reach EOSL. In the UK approximately 50,000 buildings are demolished each year generating 45Mt of wastes, the majority of this is concrete and masonry, brick and steel. Of this 45Mt, only a small percentage is reclaimed, mostly for heritage products or easily demountable structures such as steel sections from portal frames. EOSL buildings are treated as costs to be minimised with speed of clearance commercially critical and a subsequent major loss of embedded carbon, energy, materials and potential value.

For circularity to become mainstream in the building construction industry, it is imperative that barriers to reuse hard to deconstruct buildings, including using cement mortar based masonry, reinforced concrete, steel-concrete composite structures, which account for the vast majority of UK construction tonnage and cost, must be removed.

REBUILD starts the process of converting all current building at the end of their first life and future buildings into material and product banks allowing the retention of high value materials and products for future repeat reuse. The cost of transport and storage means that repair, remanufacture and reuse of products to be commercially successful will need to be regional/local scale. To create demand acceptance for re-used products REBUILD testing processes are designed to demonstrate industry standards of quality assurance of technical performance.

Creating demand requires a system re-design and co-ordination to integrate all the activities in the value chain including construction and manufacture, demolition and other key activities (financing, public procurement, planning), in new ways to collaborate to unlock and share value from product re-use. This integration is likely to be optimal at city scale within a circular economy regional hub. This system design will be created and modelled with our industrial stakeholders. The project will quantify, measure and evaluate the magnitude of value creation and product re-use for different system configurations and scenarios against a Business as Usual (BAU) reference case. Continual interactions with the industrial stakeholder group, and through their networks the wider construction industry, will make sure that the direction of our project stays close to industrial needs and the outcomes of our research are communicated to the industry in the most effective way.

Planned Impact

Construction in the UK is a major contributor to GDP (8-10%, £100bn output) and accounts for 8% of UK employment. The construction products and materials sector employs over 600,000 people in 30,000 firms, many of them SMEs, worth £50-55bn. Much of the building construction sector however operate a linear - take-make-dispose model and the vast majority of building products at the end of their service life are currently downcycled. These products have the potential for reuse and high value remanufacture which would transform the value of legacy building stocks, and create a new industry sector and source of innovation for the construction industry. REBUILD brings together key players in building construction and ownership e.g. design, demolition, finance, maintenance, manufacture etc., at a regional scale to capture potential for circular economy innovation, value retention and creation opportunities.

The broad scope of REBUILD means there is a wide range of beneficiaries. The quantification of value creation and material savings within the proposed regional nexus forms a key output from REBUILD, hence it is hard to specify the size and distribution of specific value. The case for support highlights examples of how product re-use can deliver cost avoidance, cost reduction and revenues from steel, brick and concrete re-use in specific contexts. The application of new techniques proposed and wider system re-design would potentially transform the value streams from legacy buildings and reduce costs of new build and future deconstruction.The main impacts are:

- Building owners: reduced costs and liabilities, increased value of existing assets.
- Demolition contractors: skill upcycling from value destruction and waste generation to value retention and resources creation, enhanced reputation and job opportunities.
- Product manufacturers: high value remanufacture with reduced material usage and reduced life cycle cost of products.
- Developers: reduced cost of new build and enhanced sustainability reputation through reusing materials and products in new build.
- Building constructors: reduction in construction cost through material and product reuse and reduced manufacturing activities.
- Logistics companies: new commercial activities enabling direct material and product flow from existing buildings to new builds
- UK manufacturing: new manufacturing jobs in innovative technologies of deconstruction, repair and remanufacturing.
- Architects, designers and construction professionals: 'new' low impact products, knowledge and skills and enhanced international leading expertise.
- Regional government: reduction of material downcycling and life cycle costs; improved resource productivity and enhanced competitiveness of the building and construction industry; creation of new industry sectors, ventures, jobs and employment.
- Regulators: guidance on reuse of reclaimed materials and products - uptaking and upscaling of innovation.
- Central government and wider policy environment: Proof of concept for product re-use in new builds to guide future policy levers to influence circular economy and product re-use
- UK society: reduced environmental impacts, security and resilience of construction material supply.
Description We have demonstrated the technical feasibility to reclaim and reuse structural brick (from concrete mortar) and steel and concrete from composite structures previously considered impossible or damaging the products. We have run tests and evaluated structural outcomes and shown that the quality of reclaimed items are as good or nearly as good as new product. We have calculated the efficiency/speed and likely costs of recovery and reclaim. we have modelled the LCA benefits of reclaimed product v new and recycled. We have concluded the development of the model for estimating within building stocks of structural materials and presented this to external audiences. Our outputs to date are novel and innovative. We now have the basis for demonstrating the wider impact and potential to different players in the value chain. We have created a dynamic systems model to evaluate the economic and material benefits of reclaim and reuse over the linear demolition reference case.
Exploitation Route Various industrial partners have expressed interest in the modelling techniques and the non destructive methods to recover and reclaim structural products. Policy makers are interested in the carbon benefits and reduce CD waste from our work.
Sectors Construction,Environment,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology