It sounds somewhat futuristic, but today building with CO² is possible. Thanks to accelerates carbonation, CO² is used to produce building material. A sustainable footpath in Ghent illustrates how promising this new technology is.
In mid-December, CO2 Value Europe, a think- and do- tank representing the carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) community in Europe, held a webinar about the use of CO2 to create building material. Concrete examples of this sustainable technology were given to illustrate the potential they can offers, especially in the hard-to-abate construction sector. BNP Paribas Fortis and CO2 Value Europe are partners in issues related to financing innovative and sustainable technologies. As an institution, we work hard to promote corporate sustainability.
The second-most polluting industrial sector
As well as being one of the largest in the world, the cement industry's high levels of flue gas emissions also make it one of the most polluting. Cement is a crucial component in concrete, which is vital for the building sector. A sustainable alternative to cement could make a huge difference. One option here is carbonation, also known as CO2 mineralization. While this CCU technology is not yet well known, it has the potential to play a crucial role in mitigating climate change.
Giving nature a helping hand
Carbonation is a natural process, where minerals react with CO2 to create e.g. limestone and dolomite. In nature, this process takes thousands of years, but today, thanks to innovative methods, this time can be cut down to some minutes. This process requires relatively small amounts of energy and can be used to create several different products, including bricks where CO2 is sequestered permanently.
CO2 all the way
The development of CCU technology has accelerated sharply in recent years. We now have cement alternatives that meet the building sector’s technical requirements. There are various ways to store CO2 into construction materials. For example, CO2 can be injected as an alternative to water for hardening cement. What’s more, CO2 can be used to convert mineral waste from steel and mining industries into new products such as aggregates, which can be used as a basis for paving or building blocks.
Good for the planet
Mineralization of CO2 has a significant impact on the environment, because it has an effect at different levels. The annual global reduction in CO2 emissions is estimated to be 250 - 500 million tonnes by 2030 (source CO2 Value Europe).
- CO2 can be captured from flue gas emitted by industrial processes used to create steel, cement, and chemicals, with no need for concentration or treatment.
- CO2 can be captured directly from the atmosphere to create negative carbon emissions, i.e. carbon removal.
- In both cases, the CO2 will be stored permanently in building materials.
- Mineral waste and even construction waste are used together with CO2 to make new building materials, so it reduces landfills and the associated costs.
- Recycling carbon and construction wastes means fewer new natural resources are exploited.
What’s the catch?
New developments are never without their challenges, and this is no exception. Offering a competitive, quality alternative to concrete in a circular economy requires investment and adaptation.
- Factories will have to adapt their plants. Locating them close to significant sources of CO2, like a steel factory, is recommended so the CO2 and the waste fractions do not have to be transported.
- Manufacturing new products takes energy and creates CO2 emissions, even if the products are made using carbon dioxide and waste. It is why renewable energy should be used as much as possible to increase the sustainability of the processes.
- The commercialization of accelerated carbonation technologies is quite recent, and some processes are not optimally equipped for this yet.
- The lack of appropriate regulatory frameworks is also a drawdown to allow for a fast deployment of CCU technologies. This is an area CO2 Value Europe is especially working on.
Despite these challenges, Andre Bardow (Professor of Energy & Process Systems Engineering, ETH Zurich) told us during the webinar that he is convinced CO2 mineralization reduces the CO2 footprint from a life cycle perspective, even more than carbon capture and storage (CCS).
Zero domestic waste
There are already companies producing low-CO2 construction materials around the world. One of them is in Limburg. Orbix, in Genk, has successfully extracted minerals from steel production waste (known as slag) which are used as a basis for eco-friendly concrete stone. Not only is liquid CO2 used to produce concrete stone rather than polluting cement, but residual waste that would otherwise be dumped in landfill is also recycled.
There is a great example of this in Ghent, where Orbix worked with the Flemish research institute VITO to create the Stapsteen project for the city. Visitors can walk on Belgium’s first-ever circular economy footpath in the Leewstraat: 100m2 made entirely from sustainable bricks, saving a full 2 tonnes of CO2.
Do you have sustainability plans for 2021? Our experts at the Sustainable Business Competence Centre can provide advice about innovations like CO2 mineralisation and support your sustainable transition.
Joining forces for a low-carbon economy – our bank's contribution to CO2 Value Day Europe
The fourth CO2 Value Day took place online on 10 November. The event, which we helped set up as one of its partners, focused on the progress made in developing the CCU industry.
At BNP Paribas Fortis, we were delighted to help stage this event. The subject of carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) lies close to our heart as we strive toward a low-carbon economy.
About CCU and CO2 Value Europe
Carbon capture and utilisation encompasses all industrial processes aimed at capturing carbon dioxide – from industrial sources or directly from the air – and converting it into usable products. Today, carbon is not simply a waste material; it can be reused as a raw material for a host of applications, including building materials, fuel production and in the chemical industry.
CO2 Value Europe, a European organisation founded in 2017, aims to promote the development and market introduction of these sustainable industrial solutions and thus contribute to reducing global CO2 emissions and diversifying the raw material base away from fossil fuels and gas. The organisation brings together more than 50 companies from various sectors across Europe, including 12 multinationals. As its only financial partner, we support CO2 Value Europe by giving the organisation access to our expertise and network.
The CO2 Value Day is a unique opportunity for all members of CO2 Value Europe to assess the overall progress made in developing the CCU industry. This year, the event was once again a mix of plenary presentations, keynote speeches and interactive workshops.
After a welcome and introduction by Stefanie Kesting, Chair of CO2 Value Europe, Sebastien Soleille took to the floor. As Global Head of Energy Transition & Environment at our bank, he discussed the role banks play in supporting sustainable development. This is a responsibility that we do not take lightly at BNP Paribas Fortis, and we've been helping companies with their sustainable transition for years through our Sustainable Business Competence Centre. We focus on four pillars: decarbonisation, the circular economy, human capital and smart cities.
Vincent Basuyau, Policy Officer at DG GROW, then shed some light on CCU when it comes to current EU policy. This primarily concerned the Innovation Fund, established by the European Union to invest in innovative projects that decarbonise industrial activities in Europe.
The plans for 2021 were also unveiled. In the coming year, CO2 Value Europe will focus above all on the ongoing development of and market uses for CCU technologies. The aim is to coordinate the many different players involved in CO2 use in Europe, integrate their efforts into the value chain and become the ambassador of the CO2 user community towards policy-makers and financiers. After all, a favourable legal and market framework is a prerequisite for the commercial roll-out of CCU solutions.
CO2 Value Europe aims to encourage the ongoing development of CCU technologies by:
- offering solutions to decrease net CO2 emissions from hard to abate sectors, such as energy-intensive process industries (e.g. cement and lime mortar, chemicals, steel and other metals) and the transport sector;
- creating negative emissions in sequestering CO2 in building materials resulting from the carbonation of mineral waste;
- providing an alternative raw material for the production of chemical building blocks and to replace fossil fuels and gas;
- facilitating the storage and transport of renewable energy, speeding up the transition of energy systems in the EU;
There was also time for two break-out sessions, with the first focusing on developing a strategy to create a regulatory framework that supports the deployment of CCU technologies.
The second session concerned projects and financing. Aymeric Olibet, Sustainable Business Advisor at BNP Paribas Fortis, talked about a range of topics, including the solutions we offer companies through our Sustainable Business Competence Centre, financing sustainable projects through green bonds and green loans, and blended finance (a mix of public and private funding).
Finally, attendees had the chance to meet other participants during online speed meetings.
First green hedge in Belgium becomes a reality
BNP Paribas Fortis has become the first bank in Belgium to launch a green hedge. With this product, the bank gives clients the opportunity to integrate their sustainable objectives deep into their business operations.
Sustainability is now embedded in almost every company's mission. Companies undertake numerous ecological initiatives and finance sustainable investments with green loans. BNP Paribas Fortis is going one step further and is also offering its clients the opportunity to cover the financing risk with a sustainable hedge.
A Belgian first
The first green interest rate hedge in Belgium has become a reality. "We are delighted and proud to be able to achieve this first with Katoen Natie as true partners", explains Filip Moens, Head of Corporate Solutions in the trading room at BNP Paribas Fortis. "Katoen Natie already had a green loan with us and wanted to hedge the interest rate risk by switching from a variable to a fixed interest rate using an interest rate swap. Instead of opting for an ordinary interest rate hedge, we have attached additional green terms and conditions that mean Katoen Natie is strengthening its sustainable commitment."
Katoen Natie carried out an interest rate swap, but a green hedge can also be applied to exchange rate or inflation risks. Moreover, having an existing green loan is not a requirement.
Sustainable safety net
The green hedge stimulates sustainability, but goes even further and provides a green safety net, with the client paying a sustainability premium if the proposed terms and conditions are not met. BNP Paribas Fortis does not receive this premium itself, but instead invests it in an environmental project chosen in advance. "At Katoen Natie, for example, we chose a project that plants trees. The effect of this product is therefore twofold. On the one hand, it is an incentive for the client to actually fulfil their ecological commitment. However, if they fail to do so for any reason, the additional premium they pay will be spent on a green project. So it's a win-win situation for the environment", says Filip Moens.
Tailored to your business
"The strength of this product lies in its broad application", emphasises Filip Moens.
"Companies who do not have a green loan but want to integrate more sustainability into their corporate culture, can really make this ambition a reality thanks to the green hedge. The green terms and conditions linked to it are determined by mutual consultation. A lot is possible as long as these are sufficiently ambitious, achievable and measurable. These include switching to 80% renewable energy, making the fleet 100% electric in five years' time, and collecting litter as an annual team-building exercise. Companies can define conditions that are perfectly in line with their corporate culture. The same applies to the back-up project that we finance if the conditions are not met. Here, too, they can opt for a local project close to their heart."
No empty promises
A green hedge reinforces existing green projects and firmly underlines an active green commitment. This therefore concerns more than image. "This product integrates sustainability deeply into business operations and requires a serious and firm commitment from clients", says Filip Moens. "They have to be really motivated to do something about the environment. There is quite a lot of administration involved, such as an annual evaluation report and external audits. However, clients really do make a difference with this green choice."
As a true partner, BNP Paribas Fortis wants to make a positive contribution to companies' projects and growth. The green hedge is in line with companies' current sustainable mindset and fits perfectly with the bank's strategy: to build a positive, sustainable and clean future together with clients.
Creative uses for construction waste
Most construction waste is recycled in one way or another. However, sometimes direct reuse is possible and valuable heritage can be given a second life.
Construction and demolition waste accounts for 20% of our total waste. Over 90% is reused. Sometimes via high-quality recycling, and sometimes via 'downcycling'. In the latter case, the rubble is ground up and used as granular material for road foundations. Some companies have found unique ways of taking demolition waste and fully or partially reusing it, rather than recycling it.
Schoenen Torfs are proud of 'Ten Afval'. It's a recycling project that first and foremost benefits their employees. When the company renovates one of its seventy shops, the employees are free to dismantle and empty the interior themselves. Furniture, flooring, lighting, decorations: employees can take all of it home with them.
"As a result of 'Ten Afval', the materials that are removed from the waste stream are given a second life," explains manager Wouter Torfs in Trends magazine. "It's a real win-win situation: it's better for the environment, we don't need to hire a contractor or pay landfill costs, and it keeps our employees happy."
The golden ceiling
Rotor Deconstruction has made reusing old construction materials in new projects its core business. For each demolition, this waste processing company assesses which materials are valuable enough to finance the dismantling. An excellent example of this process is the dismantling of the BNP Paribas Fortis building in Ravenstein. The building dated from 1971. The counters, strongroom, lifts and executive offices of the former Generale Bank were designed by the famous Belgian interior architect and furniture designer, Jules Wabbes.
The old 'golden ceiling' that Wabbes designed - false ceilings made from aluminium coated in gold-coloured lacquer - was repurposed in many different ways. Plusofficearchitects reused parts of the ceiling in the new auditorium of the municipal library in Sint-Pieters-Woluwe. Another piece of the golden ceiling is now hanging in Emilie Pharmacy in Schaarbeek, which architect Nathalie De Leeuw renovated for pharmacist Saïd Bounouch. The architect suggested using as many reclaimed materials as possible and went with Bounouch to browse the Rotor showroom. The gold-lacquered aluminium grille is now the focal point of the pharmacy. In the entrance, a piece of the bank's old granite floor and a few panels with photo prints by interior architect and designer Christophe Gevers were reclaimed. This gave these culturally valuable pieces of Brussels' history a new place and function in the city. Rotor Deconstruction was awarded the OVAM Ecodesign Award PRO for this project.
How can the blue economy make a difference?
What if the future of sustainable business is at the bottom of the ocean for once? Marine biodiversity contains resources that can meet the environmental challenges of many sectors. Perhaps yours, too. Find out more during an online event about the promising blue economy on 11 March 2021.
Blue is the new green
71% of our planet consists of water. Seas and oceans play a crucial role in our climate, and coastal areas can capture up to five times more CO2 than tropical forests. The blue economy wants to benefit from all these advantages to improve both the environment and our well-being,
With local being the keyword. And that's where the difference lies with the green economy, which also focuses on the environment and health, but not always in such a sustainable and smart way. Eating organically grown quinoa from Ecuador, for example, is healthy and eco-friendly, but transporting it here is expensive and creates high amounts of pollution.
What does the underwater world have to offer that can be reused, recycled or converted into new sustainable products? A lot, it turns out, as the unique properties of organisms such as algae, starfish, jellyfish or sea cucumbers can be transformed into sustainable products with high added value. This is a process that requires creativity and innovation, and is already with us today.
For your sector, too
The blue economy is expanding rapidly and could bring about a revolution in a wide range of sectors such as healthcare, food, the plastics industry, cosmetics, energy and even aerospace. It is fully capable of helping companies transform their traditional activities into a sustainable model. And in Belgium's ports, the country already has a huge advantage and excellent access to coastal and offshore areas.
Another scoop of microalgae?
Microalgae, for example, offer a lot of promise, as they can renew themselves and thrive both in the desert and in the ocean. They contain many healthy components, such as proteins, that can be used to develop food products.
When discussing the oceans, the plastic problem is never far away. Human beings are producing more and more plastic as the world's population grows, yet the problem with the existing plastic is that it's nigh on impossible to recycle as its components are hard to separate. By making a completely different type of plastic from biomass, its recycling is already considered at the design stage. A large amount of biomass remains unused in the oceans, and using smart, natural polymers could revolutionise plastic production, for example. These polymers are capable of self-renewal and can adapt to their environment.
Who will pay for it?
Great ideas, you think, but who will pay for them? The financial sector certainly wants to play a role in this revolution and is prepared to take risks and invest in new technologies, production systems and R&D.
This commitment was formalised in various ways during the climate week in New York at the end of September 2020. BNP Paribas signed the Principles for Responsible Banking (PRB) and joined the UNEP FI's Collective Commitment to Climate Action, a partnership between the United Nations Environment Programme and the financial sector. In terms of the maritime sector, the Bank committed to working with customers to preserve and sustain the oceans. Read more about this commitment here (only available in French).
Would you like to find out whether the blue economy could make a difference to your sector?
Sign up here for a free online event on this subject on 11 March 2021 (in English only), organised by BNP Paribas Fortis Transport, Logistics and Ports Chair.