Is It Time To Say Goodbye To Cement?

It is no secret that the construction sector’s reliance on cement makes it one of the biggest GHG emitters in the world. LEKO Labs’ timber houses have proven themselves to be eco-friendly and cost-competitive alternatives.

Leko Labs Charges Ahead

Long gone are the days when we spent most of our days outdoors. Indeed, according to LEKO Labs founder François Cordier, most of us spend around 90% of our time indoors. It’s no surprise then that he subscribes to the idea that “if you can change the way we build our houses, you can change peoples’ lives”.

“Obsessed with construction” since his childhood, the chairman, founder and CTO of the trailblazing proptech has been thinking about sustainable approaches to construction for over a decade. While the earlier concepts of the Smart Green Homes, which he was working on in Germany in the early 2010s, were ahead of their time, his carbon-negative timber-based houses seem to have hit the mark.

Having recently raised €18.5 million in funding from funds such as 2150 and the Microsoft Climate Innovation Fund, LEKO Labs’ savvy investments in robotics and software have clearly paid off. Indeed, it’s precisely these technological investments which enable them to build timber houses at such competitive prices.

“This is just the beginning of the journey. It’s going to be crazy and it’s going to be big and I know that we are going to work with big companies across Europe and the US.”

François Cordier, Founder & CTO of LEKO LABS

Combining Tech And Nature

Replacing up to 75% of concrete and steel used with traditional construction methods, LEKO Labs approach only requires concrete for the construction of the basement. By making use of the durable and waterproof Douglas Fir timber, LEKO Labs’ wooden homes are of the highest quality. Not only do they allow walls to be up to 40% thinner, they can also withstand higher loads than concrete.

“We have certifications which prove that our buildings are protected against fire for 120 minutes and that they can last for more than 50 years easily,” explains François Cordier. “People have their fears – which is normal – but we can explain to them that we tested everything properly and that there is no danger with our methods.”

Ready in as little as three months, LEKO Labs’ houses save a lot of time due to their digital-first approach.

“Our entire solution is digital based. We first build a digital twin on the software, thereby avoiding mistakes on the job site. This allows us to automate a lot of processes and save a lot of time and costs,” explains François.

Their whole international expansion targets are underpinned by this strategy as is their aim to build micro-factories as close as possible to the forest of the country they want to build in, thereby keeping the prices as low as possible.

Another reason which allowed them to keep the pricing competitive is that they developed all of their own machinery because “if you want to make carbon negative construction to the mass market, you need sophisticated robotics that allows for mass production,” says François Cordier.

“Just The Beginning”

While François had to overcome many hurdles since he first set on the path to learning more about sustainable buildings in 2009, the signs are finally all pointing in the right direction. Although he’s been thinking about LEKO Labs’ mission for over a decade, he also knows that there is still a long way to go.

Aiming to provide between 15-25% of the buildings in Luxembourg five years from now, LEKO Labs is certainly not shying away from a challenge. But with the backing of some of the biggest climate funds and “many more innovations” in the pipeline, the founder is optimistic about the proptech’s chances.

“This is just the beginning of the journey. It’s going to be crazy and it’s going to be big and I know that we are going to work with big companies across Europe and the US and that some might want to eat us or destroy us,” says François.

It’s hard to say where LEKO Labs will end up but currently, the proptech is enjoying a well-deserved spell of good fortune and with concrete prices projected to increase by 20% in Luxembourg a the start of next year, it seems unlikely to be interrupted any time soon.

“I want to pick the best location in Luxembourg for the pavilion prototype, finalize all partnerships and obtain the required approvals.”

Angelika Bocian-Jaworska, Founder & CEO of Äerd Lab

A Return To Clay

Äerd Lab’s founder and CEO Angelika Bocian-Jaworska tells us more about her mission to bring clay houses to the construction sector.

Why did you found Äerd Lab and what is your mission?

Äerd Lab was founded due to the need to find a solution to the growing challenges for the architecture and construction industry. I am convinced that materials with a low environmental impact combined with emerging technologies can be a solution for both the ecological and the housing crisis.

Your long-term goal is to 3D print houses. Where are you in this process? And what steps are needed to get there?

For over a year, I have been consistently presenting the possibilities of 3D printing from various types of clay on a small scale, i.e. ceramics. I also run workshops and trainings. At the same time, I am raising funds for a larger machine that will enable the printing of modules that can be used to assemble a prototype pavilion. The final step is to print on-site using locally available soil and fibres.

In which ways is clay more sustainable than more conventional building materials?

First of all, local clay does not require long-distance transportation and can be obtained without remarkable CO2 emissions (in contrast to concrete). Secondly, it’s a fully recyclable, self-humidifying, earthquake-resistant and human-friendly material.

By when do you expect to be able to 3D print houses?

My target is to start printing a first pavilion at the beginning of the next year, so six months from now. That’s an aggressive schedule and I expect multiple delays, but as a founder, I put some level of urgency on the very first project. This will be a prototype exposed in public space so I can collect feedback from the local community.

What are your goals for the remainder of the year?

I want to finish fundraising for the large 3D printer capable of printing up to 1m high modules and select the right combination of materials and test the resistance of the structure. Furthermore, I want to pick the best location in Luxembourg for the pavilion prototype, finalize all partnerships and obtain the required approvals. Last but not least, I would like to finish the house design and win the first contract for the full house prototype.

This article was first published in the Silicon Luxembourg magazine. Get your copy.

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