Heriot-Watt product innovation to improve the sustainability of the construction industry

Economic Transformation in our Nation

Universities have a strong culture of delivery which aligns closely with the Scottish Government’s National Strategy for Economic Transformation. We’ve curated a set of 19 stories to show how universities support people, businesses, industries and Scotland’s regions towards economic transformation.

The K-Briq: More than just another brick in the wall

Professor Gabriela Medero and Dr Sam Chapman of Heriot-Watt University have reinvented the humble brick, creating a new product that is made of 90% recycled materials and produces less than 5% of the typical carbon emissions during manufacture.

Prior to the K-Briq, there has been little product innovation in this staple of the construction industry, despite a growing number of environmental and supply-chain issues. The UK is the largest market for bricks in Europe, with more than 2.6 billion bricks used by the British construction industry during 2019. More than 500 million of those bricks were imported due to shortages in the domestic supply chain, with Scotland importing 85% of its bricks during 2018.

As well as supply constraints, builders and construction companies face greater regulatory pressure to reduce their impact on the environment. European Union legislation now requires 70% of all construction and demolition waste to be recycled, with a ban on waste going to landfill. The construction industry generates 45% of the UK’s total carbon emissions, while 32% of landfill waste comes from construction and demolition.

Development of the first K-Briqs began in 2011. Working with a waste-handling facility, concrete, rubble, old bricks, and plasterboard were separated, washed, and crushed down into manageable fractions to be used as feedstock to produce the K-Briq. Thousands of bricks were then tested to fully understand their properties, performance and durability in detail.

Made from more than 90% recycled waste from the construction and demolition industry, the K-Briq boasts the highest percentage of recycled content of any brick in the UK market. The K-Briq doesn’t need to be fired in a furnace like a conventional brick, which means it produces less than 5% of the typical carbon dioxide emissions. It also requires less than a tenth of the energy to manufacture.

Kenoteq was formed as a spin-out company in 2019 with support and funding from Zero Waste Scotland, Interface Scotland, Scottish Enterprise, the Royal Academy of Engineering, Innovate UK, and the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre, now known as Built Environment – Smarter Transformation (BE-ST). The first pilot plant for manufacture was opened at a waste recycling facility, reducing the distance waste needs to be transported. Capacity at the plant was increased during 2022, and Kenoteq is on course to produce three million K-Briqs at the site during 2023, when the first commercial factory opens.

K-Briqs have started to turn heads in the interiors market as well as in construction, ensuring sustainability sits comfortably alongside beauty and design. As well as earning a place in the prestigious Design Museum in London, they are also part of early demonstrator projects. Edinburgh restaurant Tuk Tuk Indian Street Food recently installed a bar made from K-Briqs in one of its restaurants. The striking bar utilises over half a tonne of waste construction material.

While developing greener materials is just one way to build towards more sustainable construction and design industries, you can’t build anything without laying the first brick. The K-Briq will play its part in a more sustainable future, supporting key industries as they strive to decarbonise.

Key Points:

National Strategy for Economic Transformation theme: Entrepreneurial people & culture and new market opportunities

Institution: Heriot-Watt University

Location: Edinburgh

  • K-Briqs are made from more than 90% recycled waste from the construction and demolition industry
  • K-Briqs produces less than 5% of the typical carbon emissions during manufacture.