67th BetonTage: Providing impetus for transformation

From June 20 to 22, 2023, the BetonTage took place at the Congress Centrum Ulm. “Changing times in concrete construction” was the motto of this year’s industry event. “Making construction more sustainable is the challenge! The BetonTage want to give impulses for this, promote the transfer of knowledge and drive innovation,” said Friedrich Gebhart, President of the originally initiating Fachverband Beton- und Fertigteilwerke Baden-Württemberg, at the opening. The presentations from science and practice focused on decarbonization, resource efficiency and digitalization. Around 1,800 people attended the congress and learned about the potential of precast concrete construction.

Status quo in the construction industry
At the opening, the focus was on the current framework conditions in the construction industry. Price increases for energy, fuel and cement, rising interest rates on loans and cuts in housing subsidies are currently clouding the view of the future.

Prof. Bernd Raffelhüschen from the Albert Ludwigs University in Freiburg took a close look at demographics and thus the prospects for the real estate industry. By 2050, only 60 million of today’s inhabitants will be alive instead of 84, and around 9 million of them will be older than 80. This would have a negative impact not only on the social security system, but also on the real estate market in general. However, the positive message is that the number of households will continue to rise in the coming years, so the need for construction and housing is by no means decreasing. And greater immigration could also have a positive impact on real estate development in the long term, the financial expert explained.

Dr. Ludwig Möhring, Bundesverband Erdgas, Erdöl und Geoenergie (BVEG), Hanover, sees current commodity prices as the “new normal” and thus dampens expectations of cost easing. At the same time, however, this would also drive further advances in efficiency.

Prof. Manfred Curbach, Technical University of Dresden, called for a rethink in the construction industry. “We need to build differently and more efficiently: more resource-efficient, lighter, leaner and, above all, CO₂-neutral.” Given the time remaining until 2045, not one, but hundreds of disruptive solutions would need to be implemented. In particular, he criticized the speed with which new developments have been implemented to date. He pleaded for the establishment of a construction research center and asked for the support of the construction industry. In addition, faster approval procedures and an adaptation of the study and training content in the construction sector are required in order to adequately meet the challenges of climate change.

Decarbonization of the cement industry
As an energy-intensive and emissions-intensive industry, the cement industry bears a special responsibility in climate protection. With innovative technologies, the industry aims to produce climate-neutral cement by 2050. Numerous contributions at the BetonTage therefore dealt with low-clinker or CO₂-reduced cements and cement-substituting secondary materials. A decisive role in the decarbonization of the cement and concrete value chain is played by CO₂ capture in the cement plant and its subsequent utilization (Carbon Capture & Utilization) or storage (Carbon Capture & Storage). A pioneer in this field is Norway, which was also a guest country at BetonTage this year and reported on its experiences. Currently, the largest underground storage facility for CO₂ is being built there off the west coast. The aim is to demonstrate the feasibility of carbon dioxide storage in the seabed on a large industrial scale and to establish an international transport network to store captured CO₂ from all over Europe here for 1,000 years. In addition, the world’s first full-scale CO₂ capture and storage facility is being built at a cement plant in Brevik. 400,000 t CO₂ are to be captured here annually.

Impetus for manufacturer plants

Important stimuli for manufacturers of concrete components were provided by the segment-specific panels designed in conjunction with the relevant trade organizations – from structural precast and cast stone to concrete paving blocks and channel systems. In the “Prefabrication” panel, for example, various possible applications of recycled concrete in precast construction were highlighted. Also presented were textile-reinforced precast concrete facades equipped with small photovoltaic modules. In addition, load-bearing and non-load-bearing interior walls for apartment buildings can already be produced with 100 percent natural stone substitutes. An improvement in the CO₂ balance of precast concrete elements is also possible through the use of high-performance concretes, as another example demonstrated. They lead to reduced component thicknesses, savings in building material masses and weight. This has a positive effect on CO₂ emissions during production and in construction site equipment and logistics. Resource conservation and decarbonization are also increasingly in focus in the design, manufacture and processing of cast stone. The “cast concrete block” panel showed how this is implemented in practice with slim components and CO₂-reduced white cement.

Under the title “Designing living spaces”, manufacturers of products for road construction, gardening and landscaping informed themselves about the consequences of climate change and the ways to climate-neutral concrete block production. This includes, for example, the newly developed abatement cost calculator, which serves as the basis for determining a company’s CO₂ footprint. The “Innovative pipe and sewer construction” panel included a presentation of the new Association EPDs for concrete and reinforced concrete pipes and manholes. The contribution about an innovative concrete channel system was also interesting. It is 100 percent cement-free and has up to 70 percent lower CO₂ emissions compared with conventional products.

The sustainable transformation of industry toward climate neutrality was also on the agenda at the “Business and Law” panel. A precast manufacturer reported on his experience in determining the environmental footprint of his products. The “Bund Güteschutz Beton- und Stahlbetonfertigteile” presented the new verification system “Sustainable Precast”. It was developed specifically for the precast concrete industry. Starting in the fall of 2023, companies in the sector will be able to obtain certification and determine their environmental footprint. The second part of the program provided valuable tips on labor and construction law issues, as well as how to successfully generate social media leads.
The accompanying exhibition also provided numerous impulses for everyday business. It was fully booked again this year. Companies from the supplier, machine and software industries presented their services and products. Some of them had the additional opportunity to inform about their new developments in the “Forum Innovation”.

New opportunities with carbon concrete
Carbon concrete is increasingly finding its way into precast concrete plants and offers great potential for climate-friendly construction. In cooperation with Composites United e.V.-Netzwerk CU BAU, the organizer therefore again offered a special panel on this topic. Among other things, new non-metallic reinforcements, innovative fastening options for facades made of carbon concrete, and a research project from Switzerland that aims to push the use of carbon concrete in residential construction were presented.

The panel “Concrete in structural design” also did not avoid the topic of carbon concrete. For example, the first design program for reinforced concrete components with a carbon concrete reinforcement was presented and the new guideline for non-metallic reinforcement was presented by the German Committee for Reinforced Concrete (DAfStb). It is intended to standardize and facilitate construction with carbon concrete.

Closing ranks with market partners
The Construction Industry Day of the Future has been taking place since 2020. It is co-hosted with the Construction Industry Association. The aim is to get all those involved in the construction value chain – from research institutes, planning and architectural offices to precast concrete manufacturers and contractors – on board. Ulrich Nolting from the Concrete Information Center began the day by providing an overview of the sustainability benefits of concrete as a building material. Prof. Lucio Blandini, CEO of Werner Sobek AG and head of the Institute for Lightweight Design and Construction at the University of Stuttgart, used completed projects in Germany and abroad to show how structures can be made lighter and conserve resources. In his contribution, Thomas Zawalski, Managing Director of solid UNIT Germany, Berlin, pointed out the high innovation potential of mineral building materials. They offer the greatest leverage to counteract climate change.

Various object reports demonstrated what can already be realized in terms of resource efficiency and greenhouse gas savings. The FABRIK OFFICE, for example, which is currently being built in Munich according to the cradle-to-cradle principle, or the EDGE East Side, Berlin’s tallest office building, in which lower-CO₂ concretes were used. In line with the circular economy, a current research project deals with the reuse of whole precast concrete elements. The serial and modular construction method also speaks in favor of precast concrete components. Through them, urgently needed housing can be created quickly and at the same time built sustainably. For example, through
slim foundations, multiple use of formwork, the use of carbon reinforcements, optimized concrete formulations and short transport routes, CO₂ savings of up to 30 percent can be achieved compared with in-situ concrete construction.

Change of baton at the organizer
A turning point also occurred for the BetonTage team. Michael Bartmann has been on board since June 1, 2023. He will take over Rebecca Kliem’s duties as event management officer and will be in charge of the exhibition, among other things. In addition, the era of Prof. Hans-Joachim Walther, the head of the technical specialist program, is coming to an end after 21 years of “Ulm”. Dr. Ulrich Lotz, Managing Director of FBF Betondienst GmbH, thanked him for his decades of commitment and introduced his successor. Prof. Dominik Kueres, University of Applied Sciences, Munich, will be responsible for the technical direction of the congress in the future. There will certainly be no shortage of topics for the next few years. Not only the precast concrete industry, but the entire construction industry is in a state of upheaval, and so we can be excited about the program of the 68th BetonTage. These will be held next year from May 14 – 16, 2024.