A wet processing symposium run by CDE Global featured speakers from BIS Oxford and Repurpose It. They provided insight into the challenges and expectations of Australia’s extractive industry moving forward.
Australia and New Zealand should prepare for longer term challenges associated with the impact of COVID-19, according to Adrian Hart, the associate director of construction and infrastructure at BIS Oxford Economics.
In his presentation — Australia and New Zealand Construction Outlook: The Short and Long Term Impacts of COVID-19 — at CDE Global’s Engineering Insights Virtual Event, Hart said that hard border closures and social distancing, along with “very sharp negative contraction”, had hampered demand in the construction sector.
“In Australia, by the time we reach 2023/24, we’re actually forecasting that non-oil and gas construction in Australia, which is a lot more materials –intensive, is going to be reaching new peaks and new pressure points,” Hart said.
“That is going to drive some interesting capacity capability challenges again for the Australian construction industry but it has to weather the storm before then.”
According to Hart, transport infrastructure has been a significant focus of the Australian Government. This is evident in the 2020-21 Budget that delegated $7.5 billion to transport infrastructure alone. Hart also said there will be a doubling in rail construction activity.
“On the upside, we are having budgets in both Australia and New Zealand where we have strong stimulus measures put into place,” Hart said.
“By about 2023, we’re anticipating that total transport construction in Australia will surpass that recorded during the resources boom.
“The Inland Rail project is particularly driving a huge level of spending.
“Whether it’s road or rail, (it’s) going to require a lot of materials, a lot of concrete.
“By the middle of the 2020s we’re going to be in a very different world.”
Hart said many of these transport projects are complex and require proper planning from construction companies.
“These complex projects can really blow out and, if they’re not procured in the right way, can really drive a lot of risk in the industry which can be passed down through the supply
chain to construction materials suppliers and other suppliers to the construction industry,” Hart said.
Impacts on population growth, non-residential construction
He predicted that with Australia’s economy traditionally bolstered by population growth, a decline in this area is going to impact investment markets, including construction.
“As a consequence of COVID-19 … we estimate that we are going to see 600,000 people less than forecast by the middle of 2024,” Hart said.
BIS Oxford Economics predicts that residential dwellings will return to form by 2023. For non-residential building such as office spaces, the work from home boom of 2020 has seen a decline in office buildings.
The health sector has “the strongest growth potential in the non-residential building market,” according to Hart.
“Governments are investing quite heavily at a state and federal level. There’s a real stimulus boost because of COVID. If there’s any non-residential funding that’s coming out as a response to COVID, a lot of it is being directed to health, setting up clinics, building expansions to hospitals and so forth.”
Total engineering construction has the key drivers of mining outside of oil and gas and transport, according to Hart.
Long-term issues for the construction sector include a lack of mobility, due to COVID-19-related practices of working from home, and an increase in walking and cycling.
Hart said that longer term there will be an influx in mass transit travel and a reduction in car usage, which may call for a need for more suburban and regional investment, rather than city investment.
The weakened productivity of construction firms may also affect the sustainability of the construction industry in the long term.
“A lot of it comes back to the complexity of the projects that we’re seeing right now and it’s impacting the profitability of the industry,” Hart said.
“It’s important because those risks will be passed on down the chain and so the loss of productivity by the construction industry, they’ll be trying to claw this back through the rest of the supply chain.
“The construction materials industry has to watch out for those sorts of pressures.”
Growing importance of recycled aggregates
Another notable session at CDE Global’s virtual event — An appraisal of end use markets for recycled construction, demolition & excavation material presentation — featured Repurpose It chief executive officer George Hatzmanolis and CDE Global’s head of RECO Eunan Kelly.
Repurpose It, which has been operating since 2017 in Epping, Victoria, provides services and expertise in multiple transfer stations, waste management consulting, construction materials and soil amendments, organics and green waste processing, waste transport and collection, and waste to resource operations. It works with six main types of materials: green and organic; civil construction and infrastructure waste; excavation and demolition waste; municipal solid waste; solid inert waste; and drilling and drainage waste.
With a focus on recycled materials, Hatzmanolis’ company, which is 50 per cent owned by the Downer Group, is encouraging the use of recycled aggregates in the current climate.
“We’ve got an infrastructure build … going on in Victoria and then we’ve got a recycling crisis,” he said.
“We have this pressure on extractive resources that’s never been [felt] there before and as our environment is getting more urbanised our residential growth is pushing out further which means our quarries are getting pushed further away. There’s also a direct impact because our resources are finite in how much they cost.”
Hatzmanolis said Victoria’s ramp-up in infrastructure has put a huge strain on local quarries which also face a finite amount of resources and environmental issues.
“Generally there’s a lot more interest in buying recycled as opposed to virgin materials,” Hatzmanolis said. “We’re only a drop in the ocean when it comes to the recovery of materials.
“There’s 50 million tonnes of extractive resource that goes into the Melbourne metropolitan market every year – 10 million tonnes of sand and gravel.”
Repurpose It has been successful in transforming excavation waste into sand and aggregate.
“We shouldn’t be competing with the quarrying industry, we need to make the best use of all of our resources,” Hatzmanolis said.
“The untapped potential is about what we can actually do with the sand and aggregate.
“We’re only touching the tip of the iceberg in what we’ve been able to produce.”
Repurpose It has diverted 60,000 tonnes of opaque glass from landfill so far.
“We can now produce a clean washed glass that no one ever knew was available or possible through the investment of the washing plant. We’re finding higher value reuse,” Hatzmanolis said.
“We’re the only company in Australia that can wash glass fines.
He predicted that in the future, infrastructure “won’t be built with the same resources that we are using today.
“We need to work with government agencies, and we need the industry to do research and development about gaining the most out of existing resources.”
Confidence to innovate
Eunan Kelly acknowledged in the session that CDE Global’s work with Repurpose It, and other similarly ambitious recycled aggregate producers in Europe and North America, had been an enlightening experience. The company has adapted its washing plants from traditional sand and gravel processing purposes to fit recycled aggregate and waste excavation purposes.
“Turning a sand washing plant into a recycling plant has plenty of challenges,” Kelly said. “However, with knowledge, know-how, ambition, these things are possible. That’s where we (CDE) learn, not only selling the technology but providing the conduit, the building blocks to further expand businesses.”
Kelly added that he was continually amazed by the drive, ambition and inspiration of producers like Repurpose It, as they sought ways to develop new products and grow their organisations.
“It’s all about confidence,” he said. “When you know and realise there is a technology available, and it’s all possible, then it drives you. George is always keen to explore the possibilities, he wants to go to the next level.”
“We thrive on innovation in our business, and that makes it a fun place to work,” Hatzmanolis said. “We like taking a waste that someone has disregarded and having a go at [transforming] it.”