Brussels is increasingly seen as a great place for circular innovators. WeLoveBrussels talks to Ken De Cooman, CEO of BC materials, a young Brussels start up that wants to change the building sector. An inspiring story travelling from Burundi to the Sablon.
What does BC materials do?
“We use excavated earth from construction sites to transform it into perfectly circular building materials, like clay plaster, compressed earth bricks or rammed earth. Not a lot of people know it, but every year 2 million tons of earth is excavated in Brussels. Most of that is usually transported and dumped in mines or quarries, sometimes very far away.”
How did you come up with that idea?
“Some years ago, we had an assignment as architects to build a library in Burundi, and import was very expensive, so we really wanted to build with the community and the local materials. So, we learned the trade of raw earth building on the spot from a local entrepreneur and we co-constructed with local builders and volunteers. It was an eye-opening experience and when we came back, we asked ourselves: why is no one working with these great earth materials, that are also present in Brussels?”
What’s so great about the Brussels earth?
“Well, a lot of different earth materials, all over the world, can be used to build. But for example, the Sablon is called that name for the excellent quality of ‘sable’ – sand – that has been used for centuries to build. A bit deeper in the Brussels ground, you have excellent clay layers that can be used for building. It’s all just a matter of finetuning the right formula, blending it well and making a good mix; we have ten years of experience and so we can turn, what some see as ‘waste’, into a valuable building material.”
What does the BC stand for?
“It’s short for Brussels Cooperation. We’re four founders – Wes Degreef, Laurens Bekemans, Nicolas Coeckelberghs and myself – who’ve studied here, and now live and work here. Actually, everyone of our employees lives here. We love the city, with its assets, and its shadow sides. There’s so much creativity happening here: it’s a great playground for circular innovators. We’re grateful that the Region is giving grants to the best circular initiatives with Be Circular. We think it’s good that a city like ours is not only about fun bars and shops, but also about building, innovating and producing in a sustainable and circular way.”
Why do you think it’s so important?
“Well, a lot of people underestimate how polluting the building sector is: it’s responsible for 30% of global waste and up to 40% of C02 emissions. It’s a huge challenge to remedy that, in the face of climate challenge. At BC, we can produce our building materials in a CO2 neutral way, and with zero waste. All of our building materials can be recuperated and reused, because we don’t alter them chemically.”
Is that actually possible?
“Yes, definitely. That’s so beautiful in circular building: you don’t pollute and you can reuse the materials an infinity times, without having to burn fossil energy.”
What are your future plans?
“Well, we are growing and expanding our production site at Thurm & Taxis, because we are getting bigger orders. We’ve already been doing, and are also planning to do more workshops and teach students, architects, contractors,… how to work with earth. We’ve taught over a 1.000 people. Everybody’s welcome. And because we are a cooperative, everyone can become a part of our company and invest in a sustainable building future. Since we’re working with Brussels earth, we think it’s important to offer the possibility to reap the fruits of our work to our fellow citizens. Feel free to take a look at http://www.bcmaterials.org/en_36_invest .”