11:50 28.11.2022

Reconstruction of Ukraine provides an opportunity to develop a circular economy - Bart Gruyaert

8 min read
Reconstruction of Ukraine provides an opportunity to develop a circular economy - Bart Gruyaert

Interview with Vice-President of Neo-Eco Bart Gruyaert by Interfax-Ukraine agency

Text: Oksana Gryshyna


At the recent Humanitarian & Innovation Forum, you said that your company Neo-Eco is working on a pilot project in Hostomel, which will provide new housing for 310 families and show the benefits of recycling construction waste into new materials. Tell us about the purpose and details of this project. 

Neo-Eco is a French company that has been specializing in the circular economy for 17 years. And we see the current situation in Ukraine as such that makes it possible to develop effective technologies in your country.

What is a circular economy? In a few words, it is the recycling of construction waste into new materials. We have a situation where not we destroyed the buildings, not Ukrainians destroyed the buildings, but we can use the materials of the destroyed buildings for their further use in the rebuilding of houses. 

This will be a pilot project for our company in Ukraine - in Hostomel, Proskurivska street. Thanks to the French government and other donors, we plan to restore 6 residential buildings with 310 apartments, a school for 1000 children and a kindergarten. For the construction, we will use materials from the destroyed objects near the airport of Hostomel to construct the building and the roads around it.

We have already analyzed the material and know that more than 90% of its components can be used. So we are confident that we will have high quality materials in the buildings of Hostomel. We do not need to buy this material, we will get it almost for free. Therefore, one of the principles of our project is to rebuild Ukraine with high quality, but in an economical way - by recycling construction waste.

We have calculations that we can save about 20-25% on the cost of reconstruction of Ukraine using this approach.


How is construction waste analyzed/sorted? What parameters are important, especially in terms of contamination?

We take samples from several points of the buildings and send them to the laboratory in France. In total, we send about 200 kg of samples, where they are thoroughly examined for the presence of pollutants and the possibility of their reuse (or parts of them) for residential construction. Therefore, we have two stages of research: the first is the analysis in the context of reuse safety, the second is the development of formulations so that the concrete to be produced meets the requirements for quality, durability, thermal conductivity, etc.

Based on the analysis, we understand what part of monolithic concrete we will get, which can be used to create load-bearing structures, and what part of non-monolithic concrete - for other works.

During the 17 years of Neo-Eco's activity, we have processed about 10 million tons of concrete, which has been used in large French projects, and during all this time there have been no problems with its operation. We usually produce 3 types of concrete: structural, insulating and structural and lightweight. Structural concrete is the most difficult to produce. Here we have to be very careful because its exploitation is always associated with risk. The other two types are easier to obtain.


Why is the inspection taking place in France? Is there not a single laboratory in Ukraine that can analyze the safety of materials from the destroyed and damaged buildings?  It is banally long and expensive, even in terms of logistics.

In terms of logistics, we found an option that is fast and relatively low-cost. As for local laboratories, we are carrying out parallel pilot testing in Ukraine, and if the results are satisfactory, we will focus this process at the local level.

The testing procedure takes about 6 weeks. Right now we are receiving the results from France and local laboratories and will compare them. If we are satisfied with the quality of the Ukrainian laboratory, we will switch to it. It will be reasonable both in terms of logistics and price, and most importantly, we want to give more work to specialists in Ukraine.

How many Ukrainian companies did you consider for this project?

Today we cooperate with one, but the number is not limited. For example, in France we are carrying out research in several laboratories. Therefore, over time, in Ukraine it will also be several organizations, especially taking into account the scale of the task.


Is there already an agreement with the production facilities on the use of dismantled materials as raw materials? What companies have you negotiated/are you negotiating with?

We have not yet announced the names of the companies, a closed tender is underway.


What are your requirements for the companies that will be involved in the dismantlement?

We have three requirements for such a partner company: the availability of the necessary own equipment, the availability of staff with relevant experience, special education and skills (some types of work are dangerous) and the implementation of our dismantling method.


What exactly is the dismantling method?

In most cases, dismantling in Ukraine is carried out by a rather non-ecological method from the point of view of Europeans - everything is dumped in a pile, and then this mountain, a cocktail of concrete, glass, plastic, asbestos, bricks is taken to the landfill. We dismantle in stages and simultaneously sort - wood to wood, glass to glass, brick to brick, iron to iron, concrete to concrete, and each type of concrete separately. Then we dispose of all the waste - for example, if there is asbestos, we take it to the appropriate landfill, and the company must have a license for these works. Concrete will be crushed into appropriate fractions and sorted.


Is the equipment yours, for example, crushers for concrete?

No, it is the contractors'.


Have you already researched this segment? Are there many companies in Ukraine that do it at the level you need?

Not as many as we would like, but they exist.


So, the damaged buildings in Hostomel will be dismantled, and new ones will be built partially from these materials in the same city. Is there already a project for a new building?

French architects from BLAU are working on the project.

As for materials, apart from recycling and using materials from demolished buildings, in this project we want to show another technology, using plant materials.

We decided that wood and straw, which are extremely good insulators, will form the basis of the concept that will be integrated into our project.

The supporting structures will be made of concrete and the wall panels of blocks containing wood and compressed straw.

In France, we have already built more than 1 million square meters using this technology. In Ukraine, wood and straw are widely available. Thus, the involvement of local raw materials will help develop the local economy, and it will also save a lot of money on importing materials from abroad. 
We are considering the option of building a plant for the production of such panels. This will allow us to control the quality and reduce the cost of the technology.


Where exactly? What investments are needed for launching?
When does this plant expect to start working?

Investments are relatively little, 150-200 thousand euros. This is a small production, up to 20 jobs, we would like to involve veterans in production.

There are no agreements on the potential location yet, but there is an understanding that it should be close to the construction site, so we will look for it in the Bucha/Hostomel/Irpin area. There is an idea to make this production mobile, so that the equipment can be dismantled and transported to another region, to other construction sites.


At what stage is the project now? Is there an agreement with the local authorities/property owners on the dismantling of the building and the use of construction materials/new construction?

We are currently at the stage when we are completing the urban planning and hope to obtain a construction license by the end of the year.


What is the estimated budget of the project and sources of financing?

This project will be implemented with funds allocated by the French government. The total budget of the project is about 45 million euros. This includes both dismantling and the construction of a new one.

I would like to add that while working on this project we saw that Ukraine is much more open to change than most European Union countries. I believe that this is one of the greatest values and qualities that I see in Ukraine and its people. For example, we created a committee of 15 people who lost their apartments, where we are going to rebuild their destroyed apartments. So we expected these people to react like in France, where they said, "Straw, wooden panels are too unreliable, they burn quickly." And Ukrainians asked us to tell them about the advantages. We explained and heard in response, "Don't worry, we will implement it together with you." This is an extremely strong motivation for us.

With the participation of CFI, Agence française de développement médias, as part of the Hub Bucharest Project with the support of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs