The project involves the development of a new building material which enables architects to create green living walls in a cheap and sustainable way. In contrast to current living wall solutions, Respyre's circular bioreceptive moss landscape doesn't need irrigation & maintenance and isn't ground-bound: every object can be turned into a living one.
Stage of the project
Why was this project started?
Humanity has demanded a lot of nature’s resilience. The rapid increase in urbanisation and associated loss in natural areas is leading to several problems as heat stress, increased air pollution, flooding, a loss in biodiversity and more. This brings along threats for public safety, comfort and health.
Reintegrating nature into the built environment and harnessing nature’s capabilities is crucial to solve these problems. Unfortunately, it not always possible to add regular green spaces, such as parks, to the urban fabric due to space constraints under and above ground.
A lot of initiatives have been introduced into the cities, showing that municipalities are aware of the ecosystem services nature can provide us with. One of those initiatives is the green roof, currently widely used to retain water and cool down roofs from buildings.
We see a 4x potential in using the vertical surfaces for greening as this is where the interaction with the humans takes place. When you go shopping in the city, you are surrounded by facades. If these facades could be turned into living walls, a high degree of interaction can be established between inhabitants and nature. The cooling effect will be directly noticeable and air pollution can be tackled at the source of the pollution: cars and other combustion engines driving in the streets. Also regular exposure to nature has proven to alleviate stress and anxiety disorders greatly.
Current vertical greening is mainly done by climbing ivy and the placement of pots with plants in them. These solutions however require lots of maintenance, water (irrigation) and are technically difficult to establish.
What if vertical greening could be easy and cheap? Respyre's solution provides a new method of establishing vertical landscapes in a way where no irrigation and maintenance is needed. The moss layer protects the building and is easy to apply. Our bioreceptive concrete, the substrate for the moss, is established with a circular recipe.
The results of the project so far
With the project we managed to enthuse and inspire a great amount of people and organizations. Our main milestone was reaching the final of the ASN Bank Wereldprijs, last October, after a long route through rounds of pitching, presenting and demonstrating.
On top of that, lots of local companies and municipalities are interested in the proceedings of the project. Firstly in the municipality of Amstelveen, where we combine forces with local entrepreneurs (greenhouse owners), the municipality itself and other entrepreneurs to establish the R&D of our bioreceptive concrete.
On a larger scale a lot of support is experienced as well, as large companies like Ballast Nedam, Rutte groep and De Jong Beton expressed their support and their wish for the product to succeed, whilst providing us with the necessary knowledge, network and materials we need.
All in all this led us to create one large green wall at the Marineterrein in Amsterdam and a couple dozen prefab elements in our greenhouse. More demonstrator projects are lined up for this spring, as we have another location at the Marineterrein where we can test our product. Also Rutte groep, De Jong beton and The Green Village (TU Delft) provide us with the testing facilities needed for this spring, and in some cases even funding (although funding is still scarce). The above-mentioned companies, among others, do their best to help us developing the product.
We also got funds from the NWO for our research and other possibilities are still pending. We find great value in working together with schools and educational organisations to provide students with a case study and guidance, and simultaneously helping ourselves to improve our product and better understand the underlying nature and materials science.
What are specific, distinctive, strong elements in this project?
This project enables one to create well needed greenery in the built environment, utilizing the ecosystem services it is accompanied by, without spending large amounts of money, energy, manpower or water. It is one of the solutions for providing the built environment with nature without harming the scalability and the livability of the cities, rather improving them.
The specific elements of the project enabling the above-mentioned are:
- The usage of two reliable components, moss and concrete, to establish an autonomous green system
- The usage of concrete to create a sustainable facade coverage with a high durability, providing the underlying structure with protection and preventing graffiti or other vandalism activities
- The usage of moss to establish intependence of soil to feed the plants on the wall. Doing so, lots of creativity in the design of green walls is gained as the orientation and construction of the green living wall is made a lot easier.
- Using cheap materials to create a living system that is available to the whole society and not only to those with high budgets. This enables a large degree of scaling and accelerates the embracing of vertical greenery in the built environment.
Which specific lessons, do's and don'ts would you like to share? What would be suggestions for others when preparing or implementing the project in their own city?
What we have specifically learned is the importance of creating a truly sustainable product and try to stay away from greenwashing your product. For example, when we started, our recipe for the bioreceptive concrete was not circular. During that time we were literally trying to fight the emission of greenhouse gasses by using a material which is accountable for almost 6% of the emission of those exact gasses. This didn't make sense when we looked at our "why" so we tried to establish the recipe in a circular way. Though that is a tough and long process, we made great progress by establishing partnerships with concrete producers specialized in upcycling concrete waste. We now have a circular recipe which still delivers the job we need it to do regarding strength and bioreceptivity.
Implementing sustainable innovations is a must, but please keep looking at the innovation and be honest regarding its sustainability and its footprint. What we see now, with green living walls inside and outside the building, is that they often need lots of water and artificial lighting to sustain; is that really sustainable?
True innovation is what the city and humanity needs to keep this way of living possible for future generations.
Have others adopted, or shown interest in adopting, your idea in their own area?
This topic is already excessively discussed in point 12, but now we'll take the chance to mention some examples in more detail.
We would like to start with Floraplus BV, a company located in Amstelveen with a large greenhouse to their disposal. When we first got into contact with them, early 2021, and told them about our idea, our project, they rather quickly got enthusiastic and wanted to help us. Within a few weeks, we lend a few square meters of their greenhouse and created a circular irrigation system with the usage or wastewater from their air-conditioning. We had our first large scale research facility!
A handful private individuals (homeowners) believed in our product and wanted to provide us with vertical space to test our product. At their own property, literally attached to their own homes, we were able to test out our green wall system. They would take the risk of having to completely demolish the wall in order to undo the possible damage of our system. Truly early adopters!
Large project developers and demolish companies (demolishing out of use buildings) have given us access to their project to gather healthy moss from the construction that was bound to be made level with the ground. Doing so, we saved lots of moss from being demolished, and provided ourselves with a large amount of valuable moss for the development of our product. Those companies did not get anything for that in return and it should certainly be considered as good will from those companies.
Currently we are active in a few tenders for large building projects in Amsterdam, Utrecht and Dordrecht. The developers take the chances of implementing an innovative, non proven and new material into their design, with all the risks involved. Sure, it makes their story a lot better "helping a sustainable startup", but they help us with insights, knowledge and take the extra step to answer our questions.
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