A Finnish university is coordinating an international project that’s conducting research into the profitable reuse of reclaimed precast concrete elements in new buildings.

One of the most commonly used building materials in the world today, concrete also accounts for a major part of construction and demolition waste, causing a substantial environmental impact. When a building is demolished, what happens to all the concrete? In many cases, it ends up in landfill. However, there might be a solution in sight.

In Europe, many concrete buildings are built with precast concrete elements. If the old elements could be reused here instead of manufacturing new ones, it would bring major benefits for the environment.

The international ReCreate project, coordinated by Tampere University, Finland, was launched in April this year under the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme to find new uses for the concrete elements of condemned buildings in the construction of new buildings. The four-year project aims to deconstruct these concrete elements without damaging them and reuse them in new buildings in a profitable way.

“By reusing concrete elements, we can save an enormous amount of energy and raw materials,” says Satu Huuhka, adjunct professor at the Faculty of Built Environment at Tampere University, who leads the ReCreate project. Researchers here will also bring to the project their specialist expertise in circular economy business models, building regulations and law, and occupational sociology.

The ReCreate project has participation from universities and regional company clusters in four countries - Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Germany. The communications partner is the Croatia Green Building Council. All the country clusters will carry out their own pilot projects where they deconstruct precast concrete elements intact and reuse them in a new building.

Huuhka points out that the primary objective of the project is to specifically study the reuse of concrete elements as a whole, and not as a raw material for something new.

“There are many questions to be answered. How do we deconstruct the elements from buildings without damaging them? How do we assess their structural integrity? How do we recertify the salvaged elements and turn them into a product that meets building code requirements? Since the elements are not of uniform quality, how can we turn this into a viable business? We must also consider the social aspects: does the process require new skills or new ways of working?” Huuhka asked.

Photo by Tampere University