Saint-Gobain seeks to be a forerunner in promoting sustainable built environments. Supporting this goal is the Horizon 2020 funded project WOOL2LOOP, which focuses on reusing mineral wool waste from the construction sector.
Every year in Europe, building construction and demolition produce around 2.5 million tons of mineral wool waste. As of today, most of this waste ends up in landfills.
– We are one of the world's largest producers of mineral wool and want to be at the forefront of solving global environmental problems. By reusing the waste left over at the end of a product's life cycle as raw materials for new products, we help create industrial symbioses in the circular economy and facilitate eco-innovation in our own operations. At the same time, we reduce the amount of new construction and demolition waste in landfills, says Anne Kaiser, Sustainability Manager at Saint-Gobain Finland.
An important collaborative action for the company is the 6.7-million-euro, three-year project WOOL2LOOP, which received a total of 5.3 million euros in funding from the EU Horizon 2020 program. The project encompasses the entire value chain from building demolition to the collection, analysis and processing of mineral wool waste and production of new building materials. The innovation is based on a research finding by the University of Oulu Fibre and Particle Engineering Research Unit in 2014, in which mineral wool waste can be recycled by means of chemical alkali activation or geopolymerization.
The project involves 15 partners from nine European countries, with Saint -Gobain as the project coordinator. Research collaboration is coordinated by the University of Oulu.
In addition to Saint-Gobain Finland, several other companies are taking part in WOOL2LOOP, including international building materials manufacturer CRH, Nordic environmental service provider Delete, Saint-Gobain Ecophon, part of the Saint-Gobain Group, and various circular economy startup companies.
Kaiser herself is a first-timer in the project, both as part of the Horizon program and in the role of project coordinator.
– We had many first-timers on board, and there was much work to be done. From February 2018 up until March 2019, our focus was on the application and other paperwork. Funding was confirmed in April 2019, and the project was kicked off in June 2019, Kaiser recounts the timeline of the application period ‒ a lengthy one from the perspective of many companies.
Still, Kaiser is satisfied with the process.
– We have been very excited to be able to realize the project as a Finnish company. We have engaged in a number of business development projects on the national scale with Business Finland, formerly Tekes, as well as various collaborations with the University of Oulu, but an EU project of this scale and importance is something else entirely. I am extremely proud of our project team!
According to Kaiser, the University of Oulu has played an invaluable role in the project.
The University had previously applied for funding for a similar project, which gave the consortium a solid foundation for its own application. Consulting in the work to prepare the application was Culmentor, with whom Saint-Gobain had worked with previously in EU applications.
– Culmentor helped ensure that the application was complete with all relevant information. They also provided advice on including more political tones in the application. Our ideas are fully in support of the goals of the EU Circular Economy Package. In this way, our project meets several European and global challenges. The investment is well worthwhile, Kaiser says.
The own efforts of Saint-Gobain were also crucial to the application's success. Anne Kaiser laments the fact that few companies are involved in the H2020 program as coordinators. As the coordinator, a company can offer a different viewpoint to a project by thinking in terms of business and company strategy.
– Our input was especially in providing practical business expertise, such as how to ensure that the products are genuinely feasible for the market. We were able to offer a realistic take on a company's perspective, in order to ensure that the project is not driven solely by theory and research, she sums up.
Although the European Commission expects results and impact from Horizon projects, their goal is also to create and strengthen new partnerships and international networks.
The University of Oulu already had a network of contacts. In addition to these, Anne Kaiser began to actively contact potential companies and partners. Though unfamiliar with the individuals, she researched companies that might be suited to add to the consortium's skill portfolio.
– Nearly everyone we contacted showed interest, and we were able to bring together a great team. It covers a wide range of expertise, with each participant in the consortium filling a role, she commends.
Saint-Gobain Finland is a large company and part of an even larger global group.
– I was firmly of the belief that this project was important to us in terms of our business and strategy. With this in mind, we needed to find the resources to take the idea forward. Tactical considerations also played a part, as it is optimal that projects such as this one are coordinated by an industrial company. The project is of great importance to us as a company. We believe that it is better to be proactive in solving problems related to resource efficiency than to wait for others to lead the way. Our portfolio includes many products that can benefit from the project's results, both in Finland and globally by our Group.
Anne Kaiser, Sustainability Manager
Saint-Gobain Finland Ltd
tel. +358 400 28 99 33
anne.kaiser (at) saint-gobain.com
Text: Tia Härkönen
Image: Saint-Gobain Finland