Transforming excavated earth of construction sites into new building materials
BC Materials is a cooperative that is the first in the EU to produce building materials on the basis of excavated soil from construction sites.
Until today, soil used by construction companies, including clean and unpolluted soil, is simply disposed of, transported and legally considered as waste. We wanted to break through that linear process, to work in a more sustainable, circular way in which the soil becomes an ingredient for new building materials.
This means we work with construction companies, architects and building owners to reuse pure soil from sites. We transform pure earth of construction sites to local building materials such as clay plasters, compressed earth blocks and rammed earth for walls and floors. These products are circular, carbon neutral, healthy and possess minimal grey energy. This way, we also help building companies to achieve their climate targets and reduce their footprint.
We have our own productionwarehouse to make ready-made products, but we can also work on site thanks to our mobile production unit. This keeps BC Materials' infrastructure and logistics close to the raw materials and keeps our transport to an absolute minimum.
Although we work with raw materials that are legally considered waste, we managed, through good contracts with Grondwijzer vzw and Leefmilieu Brussel, to use the unpolluted land as a raw material for new materials.
Despite the spatial challenge, we were able to start up a production company in an urban area by building a circular production hangar on a waitingground. This is a space that we can use temporarily at a lower price. After five years, we move to a new waiting ground. This is how you stay close to the source and limit your own footprint.
By communicating wide and clear and by raising awareness, we have been able to reach many people. We took part in exhibitions and fairs, organised lectures and workshops, cooperated with universities, made a Facebook page, website, company video, etc.
MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS LEARNED
It is difficult for BC Materials to be a sector organisation and a materials production company at the same time. For example, our idea to include contractors and superintendents in the cooperative was not possible because they are not allowed by law to join any organisation.
Earth moving has the status of waste once it leaves the yard. Legally, you cannot build with waste. We solved this through an exemption contract for unpolluted soil with Leefmilieu Brussel (Brussels) and Grondwijzer vzw (Flanders). The research for Wallonia is still ongoing.
To start up an innovative and circular project, good cooperation with partners is essential. Each partner must believe in the potential of the concept, to turn plans into reality. In addition to lab results, the opinions and experience of partners in the sector are also important.
It is not easy to create a market that combines the niches of circular building material and clay building material. There is a lot of mistrust regarding the performance of clay building. We tried to tackle this through a series of pilot projects, but also by setting up standardisation processes.
1 millionvisitors reached through exhibitions
500participants in workshops
800university students reached
7.000people in community
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
In the corona year 2020, we were also able to record growth figures, both in production and sales. The Green Deal at the European level and the objective of a C02-neutral Europe by 2050 can be an enormous lever for our start-up. The cooperative is already breaking even after two years thanks to the sale of building materials, workshops and expertise. A five-year financial plan has been drawn up. It includes the expansion of the production site, the purchase of machinery, the recruitment of personnel for marketing and sales.
Additional grants are of course welcome for further research and development and to scale up our production. At the end of 2019, for example, we were laureates of BeCircular Yard 2019 and SenseFund 2019, which means further trust and investment. With equity crowdfunding within our community of 7,000 people, we just completed a successful financial round where we raised 200,000 private capital.
Further, our growth is linked to ongoing (self) evaluation. We keep an activity report and an account per project, so we can see which projects are making a profit or loss. We also keep track of the number of visitors of lectures, workshops, our Facebook page ... and we have evaluation forms filled in. All this gives us extra insight into what we can improve in terms of awareness raising and dissemination.
Finally, we receive guidance and regular feedback from hub.brussels, BeCircular, Flanders Circular and CircleMade. This also gives us additional insights to adjust our market orientation when and where necessary.