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SUStainable, innovative and energy-efficient CONcrete, based on the integration of all-waste materials

Periodic Report Summary 2 - SUS-CON (SUStainable, innovative and energy-efficient CONcrete, based on the integration of all-waste materials)

Project Context and Objectives:
Concrete industry plays a predominant role in the huge environmental impact of construction sector. Binder is mostly responsible for energy consumption and CO2 emissions, while aggregates have the highest impact on the concrete thermal resistance which, in turns, heavily affects the energy consumption of the building in service.
Preliminary tests demonstrated the possibility, on the one hand, to reduce the embodied energy and CO2 footprint of concrete by totally replacing the current binders by novel ones (geo-polymers) made of waste or by-products only, on the other hand to produce light thermally efficient aggregates, composed completely of waste.
This framework led to the SUS-CON project idea of boosting and linking the two research lines (binders and aggregates), resulting in an innovative light-weight, eco-compatible and cost-effective construction material, made by all-waste raw materials and characterized by low embodied energy and CO2 and by improved thermal insulation performances. The target of low embodied energy and CO2 will be mainly achieved through working on the binders side, while the target of energy efficiency (heat insulation) will be mainly achieved through working on the aggregates side. Target applications are both pre-casting and casting-in-situ concrete.
The use of lightweight recycled aggregates will allow making the target material lightweight and heat-insulating. The focus will be on waste materials that currently cause huge socio-economic problems and which are, at the same time, available in quantities large enough for feeding the concrete industry. This will lead to improve sustainability and cost-efficiency of concrete industry, as well as to reduce the environmental/social impact of waste. On the binder side, the aim is the complete replacement of cement by waste materials of high silicon dioxide content, e.g. municipal incinerator ash, ash disposed from coal-fired thermal power plants, and/or in combination with by-products such as ferronickel slag and natural or man-made pozzolans like µ-silica and metakaolin. Properties regulators will also be studied, consisting of highly active products that will regulate the performance of the binder, taking into account the waste raw materials variability, in order to achieve and stabilize the required properties of final products.
The project results, while setting-up a novel low-cost material for producing energy-efficient buildings components, will also contribute to solving the issue of “waste pressure” on towns and to reducing the consumption of not-renewable natural raw materials.
The project’s goal will be achieved through a number of intermediate objectives including an EU overview of the candidate waste materials to produce lightweight aggregates from solid wastes. In addition the project seeks to completely replace Portland cement with waste binders. A specific mix-design methodology and working procedures, pilot plants, decision-support tool and application guidelines will also help to achieve the goal.

Project Results:

WP1 was preparatory, leading to the following main results:
• complete framework of regulations and policies across EU27 on waste management;
• complete framework of technical specifications on the use of recycled materials in concrete production;
• complete framework of HSE regulations concerning reuse and recycling of the kinds of wastes of interest to the Project;
• creation of SUS-CON geographical database.

WP2 was devoted to develop lightweight concrete aggregates from solid waste materials. The following main results were achieved:
• selection of aggregates for the following experimental activities;
• development of concretes based on SUS-CON aggregates and ordinary Portland cement (OPC) both on the lab scale and on the industrial scale;
• identification of promising concrete solutions made with SUS-CON aggregates.

WP3 was devoted to design and test geopolymer binders. The following main results were achieved:
• availability of blends that may provide better reactivity;
• assessment of cementless concrete mixes;
• definition of the best type of waste binders to use in the following of the work;
• production runs definition and conformity testing of selected products.

WP4 is devoted to develop concrete with 100% waste materials. So far, the following main results were achieved:
• a framework for a performance based design and assessment of SUS-CON concrete;
• a numerical model for predicting the properties of SUS-CON concrete on the basis of the properties on the aggregates and the binder paste;
• a desk study on failure modes for 100% waste concrete;
• work procedures and test methods for cyclic design, design variables and performance testing.

WP5 is devoted to the upscaling of SUS-CON products. So far, the following main results were achieved:
• a numerical model for three investigation levels (component scale, wall thickness scale, building scale) was concluded;
• a first draft design of pilot lines dedicated to the SUS-CON concrete was provided.

WP6 aims to validate the feasibility of the developed production process of the SUS-CON components. So far, the following main results were achieved:
• installation of the pilot plant for the collection of perlite-fines;
• the number and specifications of the prototypes have been defined;
• the typologies and number of validation tests to be carried out on the prototypes have been defined;
• three demo sites have been selected (Spain, Turkey and Romania)

WP7 aims at assessing, for each of the Project products, the real reduction of Embodied Energy and CO2 Emission, and the health, safety and environmental (HSE) implications of the proposed solutions. So far, the following main results were achieved:
• risk analysis of the preliminary production processes (lab scale);
• identification of tests regarding the HSE of the workers;
• preliminary environmental assessment;
• preliminary analysis of the production processes (industrial scale) of SUS-CON products;
• preliminary comparisons of the environmental impacts of SUS-CON products with respect to benchmark products;
• preliminary cost evaluation of solutions resulting from WP4, with comparison respect benchmark solutions with traditional lightweight Portland concrete.

WP8 is devoted to the definition of certification procedures, guidelines and the development of a decision-supporting tool to aid the wide scale uptake of SUS-CON products. So far, the following main results were achieved:
• the applicable standards were analyzed for constituent materials and for final products;
• for the HSE issues, tests on aggregates have been performed and the materials are all classifiable as not dangerous,
• a decision support tool was designed.

WP9 aims to the successful exploitation of the Project results and their dissemination. So far, the following main results were achieved:
• the Exploitation and Dissemination Board was created;
• the Project pamphlet was created and distributed;
• clustering events were joined;
• a Facebook page was designed.

Potential Impact:
The main expected final result of the Project will consist in an innovative light-weight, eco-compatible and cost-effective construction material, made by all-waste raw materials and characterized by low embodied energy and CO2 emissions, with good thermal insulation properties.
Nevertheless, in addition to the main result of the project (all-waste concrete) there will be further self-standing industrially exploitable results, i.e. concrete obtained with recycled aggregates and traditional binders, and concrete obtained with traditional aggregates and recycled binders.
Further self-standing industrially exploitable results can be considered the aggregates obtained from the different waste streams considered in the project (at least three of them will be developed up to the demonstration stage).
Moreover, some non-industrial results are expected from the Project, mainly related to the specific know-how and tools developed by the scientific partners, which will be in the condition to exploit such know-how in further R&D Projects and in consulting activities.
The expected final results of the Project, in addition to the direct impact on the project partners, will lead to significant impacts in terms of environment, socio-economic and societal implications, in line with the most recent EU policy trends regarding pollution, energy efficiency, waste management and products quality.
In particular, sustainability of concrete industry will be enhanced, mainly thanks to the decrease of embodied energy and CO2 footprint, as well as to the reduction of raw materials consumption. Moreover, the waste prevention and recycling policies supported by the Project will contribute to giving clean affordable and societal benefits to EU citizens, mainly by reducing the quantity of waste destined to landfill or incineration.

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