Francisco Javier Prego Martínez | Head of R&D&I Department of Misturas: “Circular economy is a challenge and many companies survival will depend on overcoming it”
The first prize in the Galician Innovative Materials Competition for the EMULCELL project was public recognition of the solid teamwork to make this “green asphalt” viable. The award also demonstrates that the circular economy and sustainable materials can be applied in any sector thanks to R&D&I and the commitment of companies such as Misturas S.A., which led the initiative. “The demand for more efficient and environmentally friendly materials and construction techniques will increase in the coming years,” says Francisco Javier Prego Martínez, head of the R&D&I Department of the company from Ourense.
Environmental protection is a vital part of Misturas’ policy. What do you think are the main environmental challenges you face?
It is necessary to continue to promote the reuse of materials, so that the circular economy is fully integrated into the civil engineering and building construction sector in Spain. To this must be added the continuous search for environmentally sustainable materials that are increasingly respectful of nature. A great effort has been made in recent years, based on national and EU legislation, but there is still a long way to go. It is a major challenge that cannot be avoided, and the survival of many companies in the sector will depend on overcoming it.
At Misturas, in addition to being certified in Environment according to the UNE 14001 standard, we are implementing life cycle analysis and carbon footprint studies in some of our projects. With this, we contribute to highlighting the impact of the use of some raw materials compared to others, opting for the most sustainable, whenever possible, and reinforcing our environmental policy in the works we undertake. It is a path that has no turning back, not without its difficulties, but one that we are following with optimism and with the support and effort of the entire workforce, who have thrown themselves into this endeavour.
You are leading initiatives that seek to optimize your products and reduce their environmental impact. At CETIM we have collaborated in the development of cold bituminous mixtures additivated with nanocellulose. How would you assess the joint work and the results obtained?
The work carried out in collaboration with CETIM has been very positive, and opens the door to new projects that, in some way, give a natural continuity to those undertaken so far. The support and involvement of the staff of CETIM’s Advanced Materials area, on which we have relied from the outset, has been fundamental to the success achieved.
The incorporation of bio-based materials in bitumens and asphalt mixes is an emerging field of research. Is it part of your corporate innovation strategy?
Yes, we want to promote the development of bituminous mixes that are increasingly more environmentally friendly, in line with our environmental commitments.
We have on the table, right now, new collaborations with CETIM, which we are studying in detail. We intend, in addition to continuing along the path already open, to optimize our asphalt mix manufacturing plants, both cold and hot, improving the company’s competitiveness. We want the Misturas Asphalt Division to continue to be a benchmark in innovation in the coming years.
“It is necessary to continue to promote the reuse of materials, so that the circular economy is fully integrated into the civil engineering and building construction sector in Spain.»”
You are also working on incorporating recycled material into our roads. What are the critical points that Misturas finds in terms of innovation and implementation of this type of circular economy solutions?
Firstly, the company needs to make an economic effort to continue innovating. Calls for R&D&I support from specialized public bodies, such as the CDTI and the Galician Innovation Agency (GAIN), are essential so that companies do not face this investment effort alone. Without this support, many research and development initiatives couldn’t be launched and would remain mere “theoretical projects”, without any continuity or real implementation
Secondly, the results are not immediate and patience and time are required to achieve the objectives pursued. Moreover, the expected results are not always obtained. In this respect, it is necessary to have the support and complicity of the company’s management. The so-called “tolerance to failure” is a point that cannot be ignored and that is starting to be internalized in organizations as an inherent part of the R&D&I process.
Thirdly, another major stumbling block is that the results of the projects, and in particular the new materials developed, cannot always be immediately incorporated into our product catalogue or in the execution of the works: we operate in scenarios that are not short-term. This is due to the fact that technical regulations and Spanish legislation are very restrictive when it comes to using non-regulatory or non-standard materials. For this reason, it is essential to have the support of the administration, by opting for less rigid regulations and allowing their gradual incorporation in real scenarios, through the specifications and contracts that govern public tenders. It is up to the administration to seek tools to put a stop to these limitations.
Returning to EMULCELL, it was awarded first prize in the Galician Innovative Materials Competition, organized by the Galician Innovation Agency (GAIN). What do these types of awards mean for Misturas and for you?
It is an important recognition of the work developed by the R&D&I Department of Misturas in recent years and a first class showcase to show the potential of the company in the field of asphalt mixtures.
Personally, it is a satisfaction and also a professional joy, shared with CETIM and the Roads, Geotechnics and Materials Group of the University of A Coruña (UDC), the two research organizations involved in EMULCELL.
What is your opinion on the collaboration with research organizations such as CETIM? Are you satisfied with the collaboration?
Without a doubt, the collaboration with research centres has been fundamental to strengthen the Misturas R&D&I Department and to develop the activities undertaken in the last five years.
The EMULCELL project was born in CETIM, later incorporating the Roads, Geotechnics and Materials Group of the University of A Coruña (UDC) for its execution. Without the support and constant work of both research centres, EMULCELL could not have been carried out. I would also like to mention the CDTI, a public body that supported the development of the project and to which we are very grateful.
At Misturas, we are committed to mixed public-private collaboration projects such as the one mentioned above, because the company, on its own, does not have the capacity to take on projects of this magnitude, in terms of laboratories, specialized facilities, certain technical profiles, etc.
The research centres have done an impeccable job to date, and at Misturas we want to continue to count on them in the future.
Misturas is a company with more than 30 years of experience in the civil engineering and building sector. You have lived through the boom and crisis of the construction sector, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. How do you see the current situation of the sector and its evolution in the medium term?
The sector was affected by the pandemic because it led to a temporary halt in construction work and a slowdown in planned work. Problems in the material supply chain also contributed to this. And even before the two years of the pandemic are fully behind us, we face a 2022 marked by rising prices, inflation, the negative effects of the transport strike and the war in Ukraine. This is a very complicated scenario, a threat to the future of the sector, which was beginning to recover: the brutal increase in the price of materials and the cost overruns that we are experiencing make many works that, a priori, were profitable, unviable. If the administration does not take the appropriate measures, there could be a much more serious paralysis than that resulting from COVID-19.
Despite these adverse circumstances, I want to be optimistic in the long term, because our sector is an indispensable part of maintaining the economic and social development of the country; it is also one of the driving forces generating wealth in the EU. The injection of Next-Gen funds must be an opportunity to invest in the short and medium term in the construction and maintenance of Spanish infrastructures, our speciality. We cannot let it pass us by.
On the other hand, in recent years the company’s management has been committed to strengthening service contracts, also seeking new clients in the private sector, opening up market niches in which Misturas has carved out a niche for itself and has a lot to say. We are looking for different alternatives that will help to reduce the risks faced by the company and diversify its activity.
To conclude the interview, we would like to know what you see as the main changes and challenges that the future holds for Misturas.
The world of construction is facing important challenges related to the digitalization of the sector and its sustainability. The incorporation of BIM methodology and the use of “digital twins” will mean a revolution for which we must prepare ourselves now. In addition, the demand for more efficient and environmentally friendly materials and construction techniques will increase in the coming years, with increasingly restrictive and demanding legislation. Misturas faces the challenge of adapting to all these changes, within a sector that, in general, is quite traditional and immobile.
In the short term, we set ourselves the challenge of completing in 2022 the process of adapting the Misturas R&D&I Management System to the new version of UNE 166.002:2021, with a view to its next external certification, thereby improving our competitiveness and the quality of our projects.
|IN DETAIL |
Misturas Obras e Proxectos S.A., founded in Ourense in 1990, is a reference company in civil works and building that operates throughout Spain. Specialized in the public sector, its activities include the construction of sewage treatment plants, refurbishments, maritime works and building of public facilities. In the 2000s, Misturas expanded its operations as a service company (conservation and maintenance of roads, railways, etc.) and as a manufacturer of bituminous mixtures, with the incorporation of several asphalt agglomerate plants and paving equipment to its machinery. Today, the company’s activities in service contracts, pavement rehabilitation and R&D&I are of great importance.