The circular economy project WOOL2LOOP has received significant funding from the EU Horizon 2020 (Horizon 2020) funding programme. The total budget for the project is EUR 6.7 million, of which EU funding amounts to EUR 5.3 million. The three-year project will start on 1st of June, 2019.
WOOL2LOOP is Europe's first EU innovation project that focuses exclusively on the recovery of mineral wool waste from the construction industry. In addition, the project is the first in the world aiming to commercialize mineral wool geopolymer.
The project aims at converting mineral wool from construction and demolition waste into new materials. In the project, mineral wool waste is recovered through geopolymer technology. Mineral wool geopolymer provides cement substitute raw material for new construction products. In addition, the project focuses on demolition process, sorting, analysing and processing of mineral wool waste. In Europe, about 2.5 million tons of mineral wool waste is generated each year in construction and demolition. At present, mineral wool waste is almost completely landfilled, resulting in an annual cost of around EUR 250 million for the construction sector. By producing new building products by geopolymerization from mineral wool waste, it is possible to replace the virgin raw materials used in construction and significantly reduce the carbon footprint of building materials production and construction industry.
Co-operation between companies and research institutes is the key to progress circular economy
The impact of the project is created from co-operation across the entire value chain of mineral wool waste recycling. The project involves a total of 15 companies and research institutes, as well as extensive pilots and demonstrations across Europe. The project includes the world's largest construction material producers and innovative start-up companies in the field of circular economy.
The project is coordinated by Saint-Gobain Finland Oy, a construction product manufacturer with nearly 700 employees in Finland. Saint-Gobain Finland Oy is a part of Saint-Gobain, one of the top 100 industrial groups in the world and one of the biggest mineral wool producers. The scientific coordinator of the project is University of Oulu. The innovation, recovering mineral wool waste by chemical alkali activation i.e. geopolymerization, is based on a scientific research finding by the Fibre and Particle Engineering Research Unit of the University of Oulu in 2014.
Among other industrial partners WOOL2LOOP project consortium also includes: CRH, a global building materials company, Delete, a Nordic environmental service company, and Saint-Gobain Ecophon, also part of the Saint-Gobain Group. Other project partners are companies and research institutes from Slovenia, Portugal, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Poland. The project covers the entire chain of demolition of buildings, the collection, analysis, processing and production of new building products.
Saving natural resources and reducing building industry's CO2 emissions
The WOOL2LOOP project aims not only to reduce landfill waste from construction and demolition, but also to save non-renewable resources used in production of stone and cement-based construction products. The project explores the use of mineral wool-based geopolymers as a raw material in, for example, mortars, facade panels, yard slabs, acoustic boards and 3D printable building material.
In the studies of the University of Oulu mineral wool geopolymer has proved to be an excellent raw material replacing cement on an industrial scale and being one potential solution for reducing CO2 emissions in the construction industry. Approximately 5-10% of all man-made CO2 emissions are generated in cement production. Production of geopolymer concrete generates about 80% less CO2 emissions than producing conventional concrete. The geopolymer production requires a small amount of energy and the end product is more than twice as hard as conventional high-strength concrete.
- Saint-Gobain is one of the world's largest producers of mineral wool. We want to be a forerunner in solving global environmental problems and experts in a low carbon construction and circular economy. By turning mineral wool at the end of its life to a raw material for new products, we become part of new industrial ecosystems and promote eco-innovation in the circular economy while reducing the amount of landfilled construction and demolition waste, says Anne Kaiser, Sustainability Manager at Saint-Gobain Finland.
It is important for the University of Oulu to increase the impact of research and to put scientific research into practice.
- We want our research to benefit the whole society. Research is not only done for research, but for the benefit of the whole world and the use of different actors. The aim of this project is to get the latest research results for the use of building industry in the near future, says Professor Mirja Illikainen, Head of Fibre and Particle Engineering Research Unit, University of Oulu.
Saint-Gobain sees the circular economy as the possibility of creating new business, knowledge and networks, including outside Saint-Gobain.
- The project is based on open collaboration with different actors to commercialize ideas and bring them to the next level, says Anne Kaiser.
- We at Timegate are glad to offer our Raman technology for identification of the raw materials and to be part of such a big circular economy consortium, say CEO Mari Tenhunen.
Saint-Gobain Finland Oy
University of Oulu, Fibre and Particle Engineering Research Unit