Opinion of:

Giorgio Ferrari and Amilcare Collina

Mapei SpA Research & Development

From Realtà Mapei International n° 72 - 25/02/2019

Re-Con Zero Evo: how concrete becomes sustainable

Impact on the environment, circular economy and production and disposal costs. The amount of concrete that is not used on site and gets sent back to the manufacturer to de disposed of amounts to around 3% of the entire production. RE-CON ZERO EVO is a two-component product in powder form that may be used to recover the entire amount of leftover concrete directly in the mixing drum of a cement truck: up to 40 times less CO2 produced compared with disposing of concrete as landfill.

THE SUCCESS OF CONCRETE

Thirteen billion cubic metres of concrete are produced every year all around the world, the equivalent of around thirty billion tonnes or almost four tonnes per year for each inhabitant of the planet. This material owes its enormous success to its excellent characteristics and properties: cost-effectiveness, the wide availability of raw materials, excellent mechanical properties and durability. Each and every day, in every corner of the planet, hundreds of thousands of trucks transport fresh concrete from mixing plants to building sites to be used in the construction of every possible type of building and infrastructure.

 

UNUSED CONCRETE

Not all the concrete that is produced, however, is actually used on site. A certain amount, from just a few hundred litres to several cubic metres, is returned to the mixing plant, in its original state, as what is known as “leftover” or returned concrete. For various reasons, the production of returned concrete is unavoidable and, as such, has to be considered as an integral part of the production process. According to estimates, returned concrete accounts for around 3% of the total amount produced, or around 900 million tonnes per year at a global level.

 

WHAT DISPOSING OF CONCRETE MEANS FOR THE ENVIRONMENT

Only a fraction of all returned concrete may be reused as is in concrete works, while for the most part, due to the lack of a viable possibility of using it again and transforming it, it has to be disposed of and it is by far the most abundant waste product at the concrete batching plants. Disposing of returned concrete in landfill sites has a heavy impact on the environment which may be expressed in terms of “equivalent” CO2, the gas responsible for global warming. In numerical terms, one cubic metre of returned concrete sent for landfill is the equivalent of 267 kg of CO2 which, if multiplied by the amount of returned concrete produced annually in the world, amounts to almost 105 million tonnes of CO2, the same amount produced in one year by around 47 million medium-sized cars, more than the cars currently in use in Germany.

 

FROM WASTE TO RESOURCE: A CIRCULAR ECONOMY

Today, with RE-CON ZERØ EVO, the new product by Mapei for more sustainable concrete, it is possible to recover and transform returned concrete, thereby going from a “linear” economic model, based on the production of waste, to a more “circular” economic model, in which waste no longer exists and becomes a resource. A circular economy is a regenerative type of industrial system. It replaces the “end of life” concept with a concept of “restoration”, prevents the depletion and decline of natural resources, encourages the use of renewable energy, eliminates the use of toxic chemical substances that impede its reuse and return to the biosphere and aims at eliminating waste by improving the design of materials, products, systems and business models.

 

HOW RE-CON ZERO EVO WORKS

But how is it possible to transform returned concrete from waste material into a resource with RE-CON ZERØ EVO? When RE-CON ZERØ EVO is added to returned concrete in a mixer truck, or in any other suitable mixing system, in the space of just a few minutes the special additives contained in the product absorb any free water present and “dry” the concrete, and in so doing transforms it into aggregates characterised by a grain size distribution and mechanical characteristics that make them perfectly suitable to be used again to make new concrete without generating any waste, neither liquid nor solid.

 

ENVIRONMENTAL AND ECONOMIC ADVANTAGES WITH RE-CON ZERO EVO

The advantages of this innovative product are clear: the production of aggregates from returned concrete enables the acquisition of natural aggregates to be reduced by a corresponding amount, which in turn limits the depletion of raw materials, and it also completely eliminates the use of landfill sites which, in turn, further reduces its impact on the environment: with RE-CON ZERØ EVO, one cubic metre of returned concrete produces only 6.75 kg of CO2, almost 40 times less compared with disposing of it as landfill. Apart from these environmental benefits, there are also corresponding advantages associated with its use for the entire industrial system: a significant reduction in costs for production, the acquisition of raw materials and the disposal of waste.

Today, thanks to RE-CON ZERØ EVO, there is now the certainty that all returned concrete can be recovered and reused, by means of a process of industrial transformation based on the principles of a circular economy, to produce aggregates with all the technical and environmental requirements for its correct use in the production of concrete and in other civil engineering works.

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