Bioterra: From soil remediation to the production of ecological granules for the construction industry

Posted on 24 Jan 2023

Bioterra nv was founded in 1996 as a soil remediation company in Opglabbeek and focused mainly on soil and groundwater remediation and the clean-up of contaminated soil. In the meantime, Bioterra nv has been reorienting itself. We spoke with Wouter Vermin, Manager Treatment & Valorisation at Group De Cloedt NV, a 5th generation family business to whom Bioterra belongs.

In Belgium, Bioterra treats about 1 million tons of contaminated soil annually. Vermin: "First we qualify the soil and assess what we can do with it. On average, we recover 90% of the incoming volume.

We have gained 25 years of knowledge in treating contaminated soils. We have translated this knowledge into a new model that is primarily aimed at processing a wide range of mineral waste streams such as sweeping sand, sewage sludge, sieve-sorted sands from construction and demolition waste, etc. We convert these into high-quality recycled granules (sand and gravel substitutes) that in turn can be used as sustainable construction materials."

More high-value applications for recycled aggregates

"Today wet washed granules are too often used in very low-value applications. We want to define properly how we can apply our recycled aggregates and expand the range of applications. Our aggregates are perfect for concrete applications in roadways, pavement signage, ... We work tailored to the customer. We look at what product the customer needs and share our expertise to create the perfect mix of aggregates. For example, for the production of stabilized sand you need a different blend than for the production of cobblestones.

The new building being constructed on our Genk site is a showcase for our own applications. Both the prefab and ready-mixed concrete used in it will have a high degree of circularity. The aggregates in the geopolymer concrete are 100% recycled."

Responding to high demand for circular building materials

There is great demand for a transition to circular materials. Vermin: "That is very true, but we notice that, for example, this is often not taken into account in specifications. Thinking differently - for example, changing the recipe of cement and replacing 'virgin' material with recycled material - takes time and effort. As a pioneer, we are committed to getting our aggregates certified. To guarantee the quality of the final product, we rely on independent research centers such as, for example, the former WTCB (the Scientific and Technical Center for the Construction industry), now BuildWise."

Production waste as raw material for energy production

"After separating, washing and classifying the contaminated soil and mineral waste streams in our in-house developed high-tech separation plant, we have 60% of secondary raw material that can replace, for example, sand in concrete applications. About 15% stony recycled secondary raw materials can replace, for example, crushed stone and gravel.

Bioterra in Belgium

Bioterra is part of Group De Cloedt and operates mainly in Belgium but also processes waste streams from neighboring countries. Vermin: "The head office and site in Genk is under development and is currently being expanded by 4.4 hectares. We currently process 600,000 tons in a self-designed cleaning plant. We are also active in Meerhout where our activities are mainly focused on the processing of dredged material from, among others, the Albert Canal. In Wallonia, we are active in Roux (Charleroi), Floreffe near Namur and also in Li├Ęge. Smaller volumes are treated at these sites and transported to Genk by ship if necessary. We currently employ about 45 people at Bioterra, most of whom are active in Genk. Our proximity to water is very important because of the many sustainable transports over water via inland navigation."

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