Aggregates are the second most consumed resource in the world. How can this fact be squared with the policy demands to move away from resource extraction?
Aggregates, tiny fragments of crushed rock, sand or gravel, are not something that the general public is likely to spend a lot of time thinking about. And yet, as a core component of the infrastructure we use in our daily lives, they have caught the attention of policymakers, NGOs, lobbyists and researchers, both nationally in the UK and internationally.
The challenge facing the industry today is how growing demand can be met while also meeting environmental targets by reducing material extraction.
The second most consumed resource in the world
Demand for aggregates is high and only going in one direction: up. Agg-Net has reported that, in the wider UK aggregates market, crushed rock sales “remain comfortably above the pre-pandemic level”, as a result of significant demand from highways schemes, asphalt manufacture manufacture of and as fill materials on infrastructure projects.
The picture is similar outside the UK, too. Indeed, multinational construction and civil engineering firm Vinci has reported that aggregates are the second most widely consumed resource in the world, with only water consumed in greater volumes, while a study published in the International Journal of Structural and Civil Engineering Research placed concrete, of which aggregates are a major component, in second position globally, again after water.
Either way, one thing is clear: the increasing demand for infrastructure due to population growth and urbanisation has in turn increased demand for resources used in construction and civil engineering. At the same time, a global policy shift toward the circular economy (meaning reducing material use by recapturing waste as a resource to manufacture new materials) is creating a challenge: supplying the demand for construction materials while reducing the impact on the envionment.
At present, the virgin aggregates industry is the largest extraction industry in Europe. European demand for aggregates is over 3 billion tonnes per year, representing an annual turnover estimated at €15-20 billion. It is unsurprising, then, that market research suggests that the next decade will see the market for aggregates record a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of between 5.72% and 6.7% globally.
A deep resource
The good news is that recycling creates a deep resource of useful aggregates. A 2020 study published in the Journal of Cleaner Production noted that construction and demolition (C&D) is the largest waste stream worldwide, accounting for between 30–40% of total solid waste. When production of aggregates from recycled materials is factored in, what may seem like a problem suddenly becomes a major economic and environmental opportunity.
Put simply, there has never been a better time to augment, and even replace, production of virgin materials with recycled materials. Indeed, as we have previously noted, growing UK demand for materials such as sand can be met by recycling.
Research published by the Mineral Products Association (MPA) shows Britain as a leader in this ongoing transition, with 2020 seeing 28% (61.8 million tonnes) of total aggregates used coming from recycled sources, behind only Belgium’s 29% among European nations.
Nonetheless, with 72% of aggregates not coming from recycled sources there is clear room for growth.
Talk to us
Tyrone International is on a mission to accelerate the circular economy movement, which is why we offer a full suite of modular and full turnkey services to provide all your equipment needs from initial feed right through to water treatment plant and filter press.
To find out how Tyrone International’s game-changing approach can transform your operations by increasing productivity and lowering total cost of ownership get in touch.