Through the Urban Infra Revolution (UIF) project, Lappeenranta (population,73,000) embarked upon a journey to invent a new urban architecture. Rooted in the circular economy, this is driven by innovative new products and technologies that utilise natural local products and dramatically reduce waste.
Currently, urban infrastructure mostly comprises steel reinforced concrete-based solutions. Both materials require high energy, virgin raw materials and are intensive in CO2 emissions. In the Lappeenranta area alone, annual CO2 emissions from cement and lime production are around 393 000 tonnes. Recyclability of concrete is restricted while recycling of steel reinforced concrete elements is a complex and costly process. Consequently, much construction waste is landfilled, generating unwanted consequences and costs.
Tackling these challenges is important to Lappeenranta, where the local economy is reliant on industry sectors that have traditionally been energy and CO2 intensive. Located halfway between Helsinki and St Petersburg, on the shores of Lake Saimaa, the prominent industry sectors include mining, forestry, cement, and concrete production. The implications of the shift to climate neutrality is significant for such places, which explains why this small Finnish city has long been in the vanguard of environmental policy development.
The project has successfully tested new solutions to reduce CO2 emissions in urban construction. Specifically, it has developed a closed-loop polymer composite, manufactured by 3D printers, that can replace reinforced concrete. 99% of the raw materials used are local and recycled, including industrial waste (such as ashes, green liquor dregs and mining tailings), creating a new material that is resilient and 100% recyclable.
The project consortium included local universities and businesses of all sizes. It has also utilised augmented reality tools to engage citizens in the debate about the city’s future urban landscape.
The initial outputs of the project were proposed through an open competition with residents, who selected a skateboard park and a sound baffle to protect a primary school from railway noise. It is estimated that this new circular economy business model can potentially create between 50 and 200 jobs in the next 5-8 years.