The construction industry can drastically reduce its carbon dioxide emissions and use of fossil fuels, if the objectives of the ambitious Rehap project are realised. The EU funded consortium is developing new ways to use waste from forestry and agriculture to create more sustainable processes for creating construction materials.
David Attenborough’s impassioned plea to the world on the BBC documentary Blue Planet II to reduce the use of plastics touched a nerve with most who watched it, and the EU followed up shortly with a pledge to make all plastic packaging across Europe recyclable or reusable by 2030. Its lasting and damaging effects on the environment having now been made apparent, a wave of actions has swept the globe in an attempt to change our wasteful relationship with not only plastic, but everything we use.
The EU’s new measures came under the umbrella of their Circular Economy Package, which aims to help European businesses and consumers make the transition to a stronger and more circular economy where resources are used in a more sustainable way. This means not only reducing the amount of plastic and other resources that we use, but also transforming some of the processes we use to make things to make them more sustainable.
For instance, wheat straw waste from agriculture can be used to support a greener construction industry, by reducing the need for fossil fuel based products. The EU-funded Rehap project is using the off-cuttings from farming to create new products that can be used to make eco-friendly resins for wood and bio-based chemicals for greener cement.
Lignins and tannins are first extracted, after which they are transformed via pioneering new processes to create artificial chemicals that are commonly used in the construction industry, and that are normally derived from fossil fuels.
These bio-based chemicals range from bio-resins used to treat wood, to improved binding agents in concrete that help to reduce the amount of water needed during construction.
But it’s not just wheat straw waste from agriculture which is being used. Forestry waste such as bark can also be used to extract raw materials that can replace fossil fuels. It is through these kinds of initiatives that businesses and consumers can reduce their impact on the world.
In a recent interview with Horizon magazine, materials scientist Dr Miriam García said she thought the Rehap project could have a big impact on the fossil fuel emissions of the construction industry. “We expect to reduce carbon dioxide emissions significantly,” she said. “We think we can reduce fossil fuel resources used by 80-100 per cent, depending on the material that is being replaced.”
The Rehap project will help to both reduce the use of fossil fuel resources in the construction industry and reduce carbon dioxide emissions. It also makes use of waste products from the agricultural and forestry that currently go to waste. By taking this more frugal and intelligent stance towards the way we build and create things, it is possible that we can halt the damage we are currently doing to our planet.