Belgian brickmaker produces ‘CO2-absorbing’ bricks
The Belgian brickmaker, Vandersanden, is going to market bricks that absorb CO2 during the process. The company is experimenting with the product in Lanklaar (Limburg). Next year, Vandersanden wants to build a pilot plant.
Jean-Pierre Wuytack, CEO of Vandersanden, always dreamed of developing a CO2-negative brick, or brick that absorbs CO2, rather than producing it during the process. Today, he’s realizing that dream with a pilot project in Lanklaar, in a small production hall on the site of the plant where the company produces about 100 million traditional bricks.
If everything turns out well, it will be on the same location Vandersanden will produce 100 million CO2-negative bricks as well. These bricks – called Carbstones – are made from carbinox, a waste product from Aperam in Genk, a company that produces stainless steel. The byproduct is stored at a sustainable material provider for the building and steel industry, Orbix.
Invented by coincidence
To produce Carbstones, Vandersanden mixes the recycled dross with sand and granulate and then presses the material. After that, CO2 is added in a climate room to harden the bricks. “During the production of the Carbstones, no CO2 is emitted but absorbed,” Wuytack explains.
As often is the case, the ‘invention’ of the Carbstone happened by coincidence. “One day, someone discovered that the dross of Aperam stored on the site of Orbix in Genk hard turned rock hard,” Wuytack continues. “The combination of carbinox with water and CO2 makes it rock hard.”
In 2016, Orbix concluded an exclusivity contract with the international construction group CRH for the worldwide sales of carbinox-based products, but CRH never found a profitable application for the technology. Last year, Vandersanden obtained the exclusive rights for the production of Carbstone bricks for the European market.
In the meantime, the technology was finetuned via a VLAIO project (Flemish Agency for Innovation and Entrepreneurship) of 1,5 million euros, of which one-third is subsidized.
At the beginning of next year, Vandersanden is planning to construct a pilot plant to produce three to five million Carbstone bricks per year. “It will be the first company in the world that masters the technology to produce bricks that absorb CO2,” Wuytack says.
Today, Vandersanden emits 60 000 tons of CO2 in Belgium, and 90 000 in the Netherlands. By producing 200 000 tons of Carbstone bricks, Vandersanden would take in 30 000 tons of CO2 again, halving the net CO2 emissions in Belgium.
And Vandersanden has more ambitious plans with Carbstone. As of 2022, the company wants to build a production unit with a capacity of 200 000 tons, good for 100 million of CO2-negative bricks.
“The CO2 for is coming from our own production, but collection and reuse of CO2 still are very expensive,” Wuytack explains. “We would be unable to do it without a substantial subsidy of the EU Innovation Fund.”
With a return of 200 million euros, Vandersanden is the largest family brickmaker in Europe. The company has 750 employees, of which 250 in Belgium. This year’s return is at the same level as the one for last year. “We will probably not see the consequences of the corona crisis until next year,” says the CEO. “At this moment, we’re finishing the existing assignments, but there are fewer assignments coming in.