What goes up, must come down. In the case of the UK construction sector, a great deal of materials and equipment are put into buildings and, when they come out again, their value plummets. All too often, perfectly usable steel beams, heating systems and other materials end up being scrapped rather than being sold on – a severe case of ‘downcycling’.
Figures on the amount of architectural salvage in the UK are hard to come by. In 2007, a Defra-funded survey revealed the amount of materials saved for reuse by salvage companies dropped from 3.3 million to 2.6 million tonnes over 10 years.
Whatever the precise, up-to-date figure, the construction industry is well aware of the problem. This is where Loop Hub comes in. The idea is relatively simple: in order to create a reuse marketplace, a platform is created on which companies log their building’s assets along with when it is scheduled for demolition or refurbishment.
Loop Hub is the brainchild of Lydia Dutton, who worked on sustainability at the King’s Cross redevelopment in London for Argent, and Terry Clarke, formerly group sustainability manager for Segro. The pair set up the company after getting involved in the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) Future Leaders programme in 2014, where the problem of high-value materials and plant and machinery being processed as waste was identified. It is now poised to launch as a serious commercial concern.
“We feel there are three key reasons as to why that reuse is not happening at the moment,” says Dutton. “The first is lack of reliable data – people not necessarily knowing what is going into their buildings.
“Second, data is not available in advance. While an asset owner will probably know a year in advance about an asset management programme – for instance refurbishment or demolition of offices – it won’t be until relatively close to the time that a contractor comes in that the materials they want to get rid of will be identified.
“So the people who might want to buy those materials might not have a chance to incorporate them into their designs.
“The third element is the insufficient link between supply and demand. There has not been a huge amount of opportunity for reuse, so the demand isn’t there. We are trying to achieve the optimum value of materials with an intelligent marketplace, which will be based on reliable data on supply and demand.”
making the pitch
The fledgling business has been gathering a lot of attention within a short amount of time. Last year Dutton and Clarke were successful with a bid in a kind of Dragon’s Den to a venture capital fund, with a software house willing to put in time and effort to get a viable product up and running for a share in the business’s equity.
Then in June, Loop Hub won a competition set up by Innovate UK and Crossrail to secure a trial for its marketplace platform. Crossrail is also giving the company vital access to contacts within the industry.
“Winning that award was the final piece of the jigsaw, where Terry and I decided to resign from our jobs and commit to Loop Hub full time,” says Dutton.
They have both also been developing relationships in the waste management sector. They pitched for – and very nearly won – the London Climate Innovation Challenge, a £25,000 prize set up by European investment group Climate Kic and the London Waste and Recycling Board (see Comment).
A design and development team is working hard to put together the databases and functions for the digital marketplace. Dutton is keen to take readily available information about assets rather than asking companies to laboriously enter data. The system will allow information to be obtained directly from building information modelling (BIM) (see box).
So what will attract construction businesses to Loop Hub?
Dutton says: “There is an element of ‘selling rather than trashing’ which is, of course, in their interests from an environmental and financial perspective. It is only waste when it’s in the wrong place.
“There is also an element of transparency. For anything that is logged on the system as a materials asset passport, you are then able to track it to understand the value you’re getting from all the assets in your portfolio.”
“We are working to an end of Q1 deadline to have a platform up and running for Crossrail. By the end of Q2, we’ll have the platform finalised and available for users.”
Ahead of the launch, many within the industry are anticipating great things.
“I’m delighted that Loop Hub has pro-gressed from a concept developed by a group on the UKGBC Future Leaders programme in 2014, into a live commercial enterprise,” says UKGBC chief executive Julie Hirigoyen. “This is a great example of how convening the in-dustry’s high-potential individuals to tackle a problem can result in a real world solution for our industry.”
“If bits of the building have been pre-sold and committed to this or that company, then you could get 10 or maybe 100 times as much money than selling it for scrap”
Loop Hub’s contact at Crossrail is agreements manager Simon Pope. He is helping Europe’s largest infrastructure project to focus on reuse and recycling of construction waste. Pope was asked by Crossrail management to widen his remit in order to leave a legacy for the whole construction sector, which led to the competition set-up with Innovate UK.
“Crossrail sponsors and mentors Loop Hub’s development of its commercial business,” he explains. “I act as a conduit and a tester for them, and help them to make contacts in the industry.”
What impressed Pope about Loop Hub were the clear aims and objectives, bringing together the ideas of material passports and creating a commercial platform as a cohesive whole.
“How you motivate a project owner and team to recycle products or how a client such as Crossrail can commercially motivate people is the golden question. What Loop Hub is trying to do is make that as easy as possible. Crossrail has fed in, advising ‘these will be your issues, this is what contractors will look at, these are what problems you might face. One example is usability. An SME does not have time to spend hours to load up one item on to a logging system.”
Crossrail already has an established and comprehensive system to log materials, and many contractors are obliged to reuse or resell equipment and materials at the end of the project. Pope says: “We are organised, but it’s not necessarily the same for the rest of the industry. We are supporting Loop Hub to help others.”
Crossrail is around 80% of the way through construction of the tunnels and stations for London’s latest transport system, and is continuing to develop its asset disposal plans as it winds down. The railway will be fully open in 2019.
“Crossrail is looking at routes for specialist and non-specialist equipment, such as desks and IT. Some of that will be through Loop Hub and it will help them to test the market.”
David Cheshire, regional director for sustainability at multinational engineering firm Aecom, was an early champion of Loop Hub. He is author of Building Revolutions, published by the Royal Institute of British Architects. The book includes illustrative methods and examples of how circular economy (CE) principles can be applied to the built environment. Loop Hub was included in the book.
“It’s brilliant,” says Cheshire. “It plugged a hole for me; the ideas of materials passports and using buildings as materials banks are not new – they have been put forward by [Dutch architect] Thomas Rau.
“Taking that to the next step, and what really caught my attention, was that you could be pre-selling materials. You typically know two years before a building is to be demolished, but you only get access to the site two weeks before the end and don’t get much of a chance to think about salvaging and reclaiming anything.
“If bits of the building have been pre-sold and committed to this or that company, then you could get 10 or maybe 100 times as much money than selling it for scrap.” Existing websites such as Salvoweb already list architectural salvage dealers and adverts for reclaimed and salvaged materials, but Cheshire says Loop Hub goes much further.
“The other really important thing is the warranties,” he says. “Getting that sorted is crucial. A major barrier to getting materials reclaimed is that it is much easier to use a bit of steel, furniture or boiler that’s new. It will have its warranty, be delivered on-site and, if there is a problem, it’ll go back. The responsibilities are clear.
“But if you’re reclaiming a boiler or getting a reconditioned bit of kit, you need to make it as attractive, if not better, than the original. If it’s a steel I-beam that’s going to be used in a structure, you need to have all the relevant testing done.”
Indeed, Loop Hub is building equipment and materials testing and warranty into the platform, and is speaking with manufacturers about granting warranties for used items.
The idea of tracking materials is something the construction industry has been warming to for a number of years, says Cheshire. As of last year, all Government projects are required to have a BIM model, for instance.
“When you get to Level 3 BIM, you have to have lots of information attached to the model: an object in virtual space, for instance a representation of a chiller. Alongside that you get a whole lot of information, down to what refrigerant it holds and what the maintenance regime might be. The idea is that you could also include a list of materials and even their end-of-life plans.”
So the data will increasingly be there for Loop Hub to utilise. But will there be challenges in trying to create a new marketplace?
“Timing is one question that comes up a lot,” says Cheshire. “It depends exactly when a building will be demolished and if it is going to fit in with your plans.
“If you are salvaging 20 chillers out of that building, what if it doesn’t get demolished at the right time? Ultimately, if you’ve got lots and lots of buildings on such a market, you can see it would even out and there would be a constant flow of materials.”
He has faith that Dutton and Clarke are on the case: “Our clients are starting to ask for ideas to implement the CE and for some way of getting value out of their refurbishments. So to have an answer to that is fantastic. I’ve got lots of hopes that we will stop downcycling and turning everything to scrap.”
Queen Elizabeth Olympic park, London
Reuse of surplus gas pipeline for the compression truss structure saved 2,500 tonnes of new structural steel and enabled a cost saving of approximately £500,000. 104,000 tonnes of recycled crushed concrete was reused after being used on-site for a temporary platform, eliminating the need to import this quantity of virgin aggregate and saving £1m.
What is BIM?
Building information modelling (BIM) embeds key product and asset data along with a three-dimensional computer model that can be used for effective management of information throughout a project’s lifecycle, from earliest concept through to operation.
According to a report by the former Department for Business, Innovation and Skills: “The initial estimated savings to UK construction and its clients is £2bn through the widespread adoption of BIM, and is therefore a significant tool for the Government to reach its target of 15-20% savings on the costs of capital projects by 2015.”