Sustainable concrete – Pioneer Fellow Gnanli Landrou makes it possible

Researcher im Labor

The materials scientist and young entrepreneur Gnanli Landrou is supported by a Pioneer Fellowship (Picture: Giulia Celentano / ETH Zurich)

11.02.2019 – When 16 year old Gnanli Landrou travelled from Togo to France to stay with family friends, he didn’t bring much more than an idea and scientific talent. Thanks to his host family, Landrou was able to attend school and with the help of a teacher, quickly caught up on two years’ worth of missed work at the primary level. Many others supported him on his journey through the French educational system, enabling him to embark on a degree in Materials Science.
Thanks to the Pioneer Fellowship Program, he is now developing cement-free concrete made from clay-based excavation material with his ETH spin-off Oxara. 

During his studies, Gnanli Landrou focused on the major challenges facing the global construction industry: the dwindling supplies of construction grade sand and gravel, the high cost of concrete and the CO2-intensive production of cement. His experience had already taught him that traditional clay brick construction is a laborious, time-consuming process, and he knew that adequate housing was still lacking in his home country. “When people build a house in this country, they first dig a hole and dispose of the excavated soil. Afterwards, they bring in tons of sand, gravel and cement to pour in the foundation and walls” says Landrou. However, clay is an ideal building material, which is usually available in abundance and has been used for more than 10’000 years in the construction industry. So why not combine the techniques of building with clay and concrete and get the best out of it?

Gnanli Landrou came to ETH Zurich at the beginning of 2014 to do his doctorate at the Chair of Sustainable Construction. “My vision is to enable access to dignified, healthy, affordable housing in Africa and other regions,” explains Landrou. Together with ETH Professor Guillaume Habert, whose professorship in sustainable construction is supported by LafargeHolcim since 2010, Landrou developed a process to turn clay-based excavation material into an alternative concrete without the addition of cement.

“Our technology gives clay construction nearly all the processing benefits of concrete, while being about 2.5 times cheaper and 20 times more environmentally friendly,” explains Landrou. To make use of the market potential for non-structural building elements, Landrou patented his technology after completing his doctorate and has been setting up the ETH spin-off Oxara since autumn 2018. He is supported by the Pioneer Fellowship Program of ETH Zurich. With a start-up capital of CHF 150,000, coaching and the opportunity to use the offices and laboratories at ETH Zurich, Gnanli Landrou is now well on the way to realising his visions for the future.

Further information on the Pioneer Fellowship Program is available here.

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