It isn’t often that an innovation comes along that can operate at scale, reduce carbon, save money and significantly minimise risk. Infrastructure Global met with the team at Ecofill, whose method for turning clays and subsoils into an aggregate replacement product, does all four.
Interview with Ecofill founder Trevor Gaughan (TG), Ecofill chief technical officer Seb Love (SL), and Ecofill chairman Dr Nigel Griffiths (NG).
IG: Your innovation turns huge quantities of clays and subsoils into an aggregate replacement product on construction sites and has seen you identified as a ‘unicorn technology’ at a recent presentation in the House Commons in London. So, given that most excavated clays and subsoils are traditionally deemed a waste material, how does this work?
TG: “Imagine that you have 98% of your end product on site already. Using our globally patent protected technology and process, Ecofill typically add 2% binder addition rate to the subsoils in order for an aggregate replacement product to be produced.
“By the industry adopting the more cost effective Ecofill technology, we can replace huge quantities of imported aggregate therefore significantly decarbonising construction by the simple reduction of unnecessary wagon movements. This in turn will assist in achieving all our common goals and building a better future for generations to come.
“Someone said to me recently that ‘We were turning water into wine’. Wishful thinking, however, another regular analogy which I’m told is probably more fitting is that ’Ecofill are turning muck into stone’ – not technically correct but it’s hard to argue with that analogy.”
“The material is compliant to national and European specifications, which is verified by a quality management plan produced by Aecom”
Seb Love, CTO
IG: Given that subsoil isn’t traditionally useful as a construction material, how do you make that into usable aggregate?
SL: “Let’s say you’ve dug up your clays and subsoil on site. What you do is load that into the Ecofill machine which will break the material particle size down and mix in the Ecofill Binders that we formulate. The graded, mixed material can then be used as an aggregate replacement product that meets all national and European specification requirements and performance levels for highways and earthworks. The Ecofill products typically replace the traditional products known as 6F5 Capping, Type 1 803 Sub-base & can even also replace asphalt base layers.
“At that point, the construction team can take that material, stockpile it for up to ten days if required, and use it instead of using conventional aggregate that would have been imported onto site by eight-wheel tipper lorries. The Ecofill treated material can be used in earthworks, pavement construction, and in all civil engineering sectors from highways, rail, residential, commercial and energy etc. The client will lay and compact the material, just like you would a traditional aggregate. The material is compliant to national and European specifications, which is verified by a quality management plan produced by AECOM and tested by independent accredited laboratories.”
“On one new residential development alone, we’re seeing a reduction of 10,000 lorry movements to and from the site.”
Dr Nigel Griffiths, Chair, ECOFILL
IG: The implications in terms of that for carbon in construction are huge, with materials and transportation being such a large part of the industry’s challenge. What scale of lorry journeys are we talking about, and might it even help with the perennial challenge for planning applications – disruption to local communities and roads?
NG: “I think the point you make about planning is critical. No one wants thousands of lorries rumbling through their local streets and communities.
“On one new residential development alone in Warwickshire, we’re seeing a reduction of 10,000 lorry movements to and from the site. That’s avoiding 42,000 tonnes of waste soils trucked to landfill and 54,000 tonnes of aggregates coming in. We are eliminating 10,000 lorry movements, saving 270 tonnes of CO2 polluting local communities. Those figures are substantial.
“We now need local highways authorities to say: ‘Yes – this is the way forward’ and not ‘We’ve always done it another way’ – because residents are sick of that”
“If Ecofill supplies 50 machines into the UK alone it will equate to a 4.4% UK market share”
Trevor Gaughan, ECOFILL founder
IG: You are based in the UK and developed your processes to meet the UK specifications for highways and earthworks. How practical might it be to roll this out globally?
TG: “Scale isn’t a problem with this, which is why we’ve been identified as a unicorn business. To put things into context, it is reported that 188 million tonnes of crushed rocked aggregates are sold each year in the UK. If Ecofill supplies 50 machines into the UK alone it will equate to a 4.4% UK market share and 240 machines equals a 21% UK market share. There is, however, a global opportunity and it is estimated that 46 billion tonnes of aggregates will be produced around the world in 2022 alone.
“Recently, this global market was reportedly worth $463bn and we have already been approached about projects in other countries. So, to answer your question, one of the key things we are looking for right now is the right partners in the respective countries to do this with. We have been very clear from the start that our product and process is designed around meeting the relevant specifications for use in earthworks and pavement construction, so we want to make sure we have the right partners to work with us to ensure our quality management systems and processes are followed religiously at all times, no matter which country we are working in.
“We have also negotiated the manufacture of machines under licence with one of the industry’s largest material processing specialists and suppliers in order to meet the global demand.”
IG: What are the next steps for Ecofill?
NG: “This process sells itself – cutting carbon and cutting costs. Decarbonisation is easier to do when it saves money and Ecofill makes the whole thing simpler overnight. But the industry has a lot of people in it who are comfortable with their existing ways of working and there’s a lot of pressure to do what has always been done. We need to tackle that.
“That’s why we spoke to the UK transport secretary and the construction minister about this. If we can create the awareness and pressure at the top, that will help create the space for this to be adopted quickly. We also have the technology to unlock the 21,000 brownfield sites which are currently stalled in the UK, which will greatly assist in the government’s levelling up agenda.”
TG: “The success of Ecofill will be heavily dependent on two things. The first is ensuring we have the right team in place including partners and stakeholders that share the same ethos and vision. Secondly is global industry awareness that the Ecofill products meets all the relevant specs, it saves money, and that equally as important, it’s sustainable.”
“So, our big aim right now is to make more people aware that this technology exists and the rest will follow.”