Is the market ready for ‘green’ precast concrete?

By Schuttelaar & Partners

Against the background of rising ecological pressure and threatening scarcity of primary raw materials, concrete precast products made from recycled construction and demolition waste have good chances to successfully penetrate the emerging market of green construction products in North-Western Europe.

On a political level, European policies such as laid out in the Circular Economy Package and the Monitoring Framework, the Construction and Demolition Waste Protocol and the recently amended Waste Framework Directive support the transformation of construction and demolition waste into high-quality secondary raw materials.

However, from an economic point of view, the persisting low prices for primary raw materials in all member states do not yet reflect these ambitions. Furthermore, taxes and economic incentives are missing to stimulate the demand for secondary aggregates. In addition, due to the lack of technical standards, public procurement in North-Western Europe does not yet include requirements for secondary raw materials in their tenders.

Beyond that, the public opinion and a majority of professionals in the construction industry perceive concrete and concrete precast products made from secondary raw materials as of lower quality and less safe. 

Moreover, the circular value chain (Figure 1), in comparison with the traditional linear value chain, involves more stakeholders, namely waste management and recycling companies whose performance is key for the timely delivery of high-quality materials at large scale to a highly competitive building industry. This means that beside the need for newly designed green concrete precast products, the production and supply chain processes have to be innovated. The hurdles for introducing green concrete precast products therefore seem to be high.

Figure 1. Circular value chain in the construction sector

However, successful pilot projects in countries such as The Netherlands and Germany showcase that these barriers can be overcome even in big construction projects. Scaling-up best practices to a critical number will foster both technological progress and the cooperation among stakeholders. The market uptake will then be potentially fast once the right innovative products, processes and business models will be established at large.

Assuming a share of 5% of the current market of concrete precast products in Europe, the annual business volume of green concrete precast products would account for more than 1,2 billion euro. 20% market share would represent more than 5 billion euro annually. No concrete (precast) producer can afford to ignore this potential. It’s up to the local, national and European policy-makers to set the conditions for a shift to a flourishing green market segment in the building industry.

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