On the Way to a Cement-Free Future

Interview with Geert Hanssen, Commercial Director of Bosch Beton GmbH & Co.KG

Bosch Beton Geopolymer Retaining Wall Solution
The future is 100% cement-free with Bosch Beton's first geopolymer retaining wall solution

If concrete were a country, it would be the third-largest producer of greenhouse gases on Earth, behind China and the United States. This is mainly due to the high emissions generated in the production of cement, the main binder that holds the gravel and rocks in concrete together. The production of one ton of cement releases 800 kg of CO2, so cement production alone is responsible for 8% of global CO2 emissions. Therefore, any reduction in the cement content of concrete would come with a significant reduction in carbon emissions. This is what Bosch Beton GmbH & Co.KG aims to achieve with its cement-free retaining walls.

Bosch Beton has formulated a six-step path into a cement-free future. The first generation of the ‘traditional’ concrete mix for retaining walls consists of gravel, sand, water, and a 100% cement content. In the third generation concrete mix, this content could already be halved.

"We are now working on the next generation of hybrid solutions, which will lead us in three more steps to a low-cement solution," explains Commercial Director Geert Hanssen. "To further reduce the cement content, we mix it with a geopolymer into a hybrid product that is up to 75% cement-free. The final step is a 100% cement-free geopolymer retaining wall of the first generation."

Geert Hanssen, Commercial Director of Bosch Beton GmbH & Co.KG
Geert Hanssen, Commercial Director of Bosch Beton GmbH & Co.KG

Ahead of Time

With this solution, Bosch Beton is far ahead of its time – but unfortunately also ahead of the relevant regulations. "At the moment, fully cement-free structural support walls are not yet covered by construction standards and are therefore not permitted in Germany," regrets Geert Hanssen. "Our own laboratory-based tests have shown minimal reductions in compressive strength, which must be weighed against the enormous potential carbon savings."

Bosch Concrete Retaining Walls
Bosch concrete retaining walls are prefabricated and can be quickly erected on site
Bosch Concrete Retaining Walls
An in-house engineering team designs and reviews the retaining wall solutions

Green Solutions in Demand

The first pilot projects with cement-free geopolymer retaining walls have already been launched. More are to follow. Also, with regard to the environmental cost indicator, such solutions are pioneering. "The construction industry needs to become more sustainable if environmental goals are to be achieved. But the legislator must also urgently eliminate the current gap between technology and regulation," emphasizes Geert Hanssen. "Our geopolymer solution can make an important contribution to this."

With an annual total production of around 60,000 retaining walls ranging in height from 0.5 to 7 m, the CO2 savings potential at Bosch Beton alone is enormous.

Certified Sustainable

In line with the company motto "Building a Solid Future," Bosch Beton will continue to pursue a sustainable agenda. In 2017, the company was the first retaining wall manufacturer in the world to be awarded the international Bronze certificate of the Concrete Sustainability Council (CSC).

Bosch Concrete Retaining Wall and Stair Solution
Retaining wall and stair solution
Bosch Concrete Ramp
As a second mainstay, the company produces retaining walls for infrastructure projects

"This global seal of quality is a benchmark for responsible and sustainable production and business management," explains Geert Hanssen. "With this, we are making a statement." Another statement will be made when the company receives its first hydrogen-powered truck next year. "This is just another piece of the sustainability puzzle," adds Geert Hanssen. "Already today we have projects where we are completely carbon neutral."

Two Pillars

Bosch Beton specializes in concrete retaining walls for customers in the infrastructure and agriculture sectors. The latter has grown historically. The family business was founded in 1972 by the father of the current managing directors. He had started by manually producing pasture grates out of cement. Three years later, the increasing demand from other farmers in the region encouraged him to establish the business.

In the mid-1980s, the first retaining walls were produced, and the company started its international expansion through trading agents in Germany, Denmark, and Belgium. Since 2019, the company has been producing in a new, state-of-the-art factory in Barneveld. "Here, we can fully exploit the advantages of prefabrication in terms of quality and flexibility," emphasizes Geert Hanssen. "We have also invested heavily in automation and robotics to ward off the impending shortage of skilled workers."

Bosch Concrete Retaining Walls for Drive Silos
The company's roots lie in the production of retaining walls for drive silos for agriculture
Bosch Concrete Production Site in Barneveld
In 2019, a new, state-of-the-art production facility was occupied in Barneveld

Growing Internationally

The company is seen as an innovator and pioneer. Its solutions are in demand not only in the domestic market but across Europe. Currently, exports account for two-thirds of the revenue and offer ample potential for further growth. "Since 2014, we have had a sales branch in Germany and in 2021 we opened our own sales offices in Denmark, Belgium, and France," says Geert Hanssen. "Our main target is the German market, where the quality thinking is similar and concrete is a preferred building material."

Ready for the Future

Looking to the future, the company is working to get approval for its cement-free retaining walls. In the meantime, the company will continue to invest in these sustainable alternatives. "Reducing the construction sector's ecological footprint is crucial for reducing overall carbon emissions," emphasizes Geert Hanssen. "Eventually, energy prices will rise significantly or political pressure will increase, making cement-free alternatives viable. We want to be ready when that day arrives."