REBUILD - REgenerative BUILDings and products for a circular economy

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Business and Management


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.


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publication icon
Hopkinson P (2019) Recovery and reuse of structural products from end-of-life buildings in Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers - Engineering Sustainability

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
EP/P008917/1 01/02/2017 24/10/2017 £1,034,547
EP/P008917/2 Transfer EP/P008917/1 25/10/2017 31/01/2021 £921,629
Description To date we have demonstrated the feasibility of separating deconstructing/reclaiming steel/concrete composites and brick from concrete mortar which previous studies had declared impossible or technically difficult without damaging the structural properties of the products.
We have created novel techniques to achieve this ( lab scale~) and tested/shown that the reclaim can be achieved without damage
We have developed novel visualisation and modelling tools to estimate the number of building structural products within 1000's buildings and their ag and dimensions.
We have demonstrated that there are significant environmental and carbon benefits from reclaim and re-use of structural products vs virgin or recycled products.
Exploitation Route Anyone involved in the building and construction value chain will be interested in our findings. It opens the door to potentially reclaiming and reusing large amounts of building structural products currently considered too difficult or costly to recover. Our modelling tools provide a basis for estimating future urban mining potential and ways of estimating the value of products within building stocks as a first stage to a future circular economy. Policy makers will be interested to see the potential reductions in GHG emissions and construction waste.
Sectors Construction,Environment,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

Description We have presented findings to DEFRA as part of their WPP consultation review. They are reviewing the data and results a part of their policy updates on construction and demolition waste.
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Construction
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Exeter Multidisciplinary Plastics Research hub: ExeMPLaR
Amount £984,856 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/S025529/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2019 
End 06/2020
Description Green Recycling And re-manufacturing of Carbon fibre composites for a circular Economy (GRACE)
Amount £784,270 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/S018352/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2019 
End 03/2022
Title 3D visualisation tool 
Description A novel modelling tool for building component stock flow assessment 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The tool developed from this work has bene submitted for publication and presented at several research conferences. Industrial groups including BRE has expressed interest in testing the tool for future applications. 
Description UKRI CE-Hub 
Organisation Waste and Resources Action Programme
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The REBUILD project formed an importent contribution to the recent successful UKRI funded CE-HUB award. WRAP is now a partner on the new CE-HUB and a source of partnership for a future data observatory. The hub is likely to co-orindate at least 1 national centre on buildings and construction. The expertise and knowledge gained from REBUILD will be important to that role. WRAP has a good knowledge and experience of CDW and related data sets.
Collaborator Contribution WRAP will play a role in the development of a National Data observatory.
Impact A proposal will be submitted to UKRI in July 2020
Start Year 2020
Description EcoBuild 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Two presentations at EcoBuild - national event for building sector
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Institute of demolition contractors 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation to IDE regional meeting in Wolverhampton. Industry follow up including advice for future deconstruction of buildings plus follow up opportunities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019