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Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centre for Mineral-based Construction Materials

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Focus Area 2A – Design for deconstruction and reuse of non-structural components

This focus area aims to develop new connections for infill walls to enable deconstruction without damaging other parts, assisting with reuse of non-structural component materials.

Image of curved concrete building facade

Description

The project led by Shoma and Ornella at the University of Leeds aims to enable the circularity of external infill walls used for buildings in the UK and to facilitate the national effort toward achieving net zero by 2050. The infill walls are removed during the refurbishment of the buildings to adapt spaces to new functions and/or to comply with new energy efficiency or humidity control targets. While a building is used typically for 60 years before it is demolished, the infill walls are used only for about 30 years. The infill walls are typically made of lightweight steel frames and gypsum boards. A recent study showed that the lightweight steel frames for infill walls in multistorey buildings could be used for 100 years. The gypsum boards could also be used for a longer period than the current actual period. The recycling of lightweight steel and gypsum boards incurs environmental burdens, as materials must be collected, sorted, transported, cleaned/pre-processed, and then re-manufactured. Thus, the project is currently investigating the possibility of reusing the whole infill walls and parts of infill walls (only gypsum board or only steel frames) that will reduce the amount of materials sent for the energy-intensive recycling processes.

To date, the researchers have organised monthly meetings with their primary industry partner, Etex, to discuss the ideas of deconstruction and reuse of external infill walls for buildings, and visited a construction site, where researchers observed the process of constructing school buildings with external infill walls. In addition to this, an agreement to obtain materials for the experimental tests from Etex and EOS was secured. The tests will be pivotal in demonstrating the feasibility of circularity of infill wall systems. The project, also, facilitated collaboration with other stakeholders along the supply chain, specifically with HLM Architects, which may provide the opportunity for de-constructable infill walls to be adopted in a variety of projects. HLM Architects provided the Leeds researchers with data of building construction for use in life cycle assessment. The life cycle assessment study will evaluate how the deconstruction and reuse of infill walls will affect the environmental performance of the building.