Luxembourg-based Leko Labs, a construction start-up developing sustainable wood-based construction materials as an alternative to steel and concrete and applying automation to construction methods, has closed a $21 million Series A financing round.
The increase is led by the urban sustainability-focused fund 2150 with participation from Microsoft’s Climate Innovation Fund, Tencent, AMAVI, Rise PropTech Fund, Extantia and Freigeist.
Construction is, of course, an extremely dirty business. Not only literally, given the earth and dust that is inevitably turned up, but also in terms of carbon emissions: according to a 2017 report by the World Green Building Council, building and construction activities together account for 39% of energy-related CO2 emissions at upstream current generation is included.
Reducing the carbon footprint of construction should therefore be an important part of the global net-zero climate strategy.
Leko Labs considers itself a “carbon negative” construction company – because it has developed a new wall and floor system based solely on wood and wood fiber, which it claims is capable of producing 75% of the concrete and steel currently used in construction to replace a single building.
The wood composite product is built to withstand high compressive loads (30,000x its own mass, the claim); and — if sourced from sustainable forestry, which means that trees harvested for timber are replanted; and assuming a long, productive life of the material/building – it should retain significantly more carbon than a traditional construction made with concrete and steel, which requires extremely energy-intensive processes to produce.
Leko Labs’ claim is that the more sustainable construction method can save ‘thousands’ of tons of CO2 compared to traditional approaches.
In addition, the startup says the engineered wood can provide superior insulation properties for buildings that also have thinner walls – meaning both better heating/cooling performance (it says the wall system can reduce heating/cooling needs by up to 87%) and up to 10 % more floor space vs traditionally built buildings.
The PR bills its approach to construction as having “one of the lowest possible carbon footprints from the time the building is completed and throughout its life with low emissions from heating and cooling”.
Though it’s prudent to add one more caveat that his methods only “potentially” enable buildings to remain carbon neutral throughout their lifetime. Obviously there are many factors that influence a building’s emissions and construction/thermal properties are just a few.
The company’s material can be used for buildings up to 100 m high, according to Leko, which was founded in 2017 and now has “several” construction projects underway in its home Benelux region, including houses, offices and data centers (some ongoing projects are visible). on the website).
In addition to engineered wood, Leko says it uses a “fully circular manufacturing process” — and what it sees as an “automotive-like, robotics-driven” approach to construction, with components such as walls prefabricated and delivered off-site at the factory. at the point of installation – which can reduce the time required for a build versus traditional methods (50% faster builds is the claim).
The company has also developed a software platform to help automate and optimize the building design process, using algorithms that it says is able to reduce wood consumption (up to 50%) compared to traditional buildings, and to ensure for better thermal, acoustic and static properties.
This algorithmic approach also means that Leko can solve the moisture and noise problems typically associated with wooden buildings – at least that’s the claim.
Fire hazards may be a more difficult challenge to fully resolve as wood is a flammable material. But of course, processed wood still has to meet building fire safety standards.
Leko says the Series A funding will be used to scale up its software and robotic building system across Europe – including in Germany, Scandinavia and the UK, while still delivering finished walls from its factory in Luxembourg.
A major change in the executive team was also announced today – with former CCO of air taxi start-up Lilium, Dr. Remo Gerber, joining as CEO, with Leko’s current CEO and Founder, Francois Cordier, moving into the role of CTO to focus more on Product.