Photo by Maike und Björn Bröskamp

Concrete Action for Climate is a new initiative for the concrete industry launched by the head of the World Economic Forum’s Mission Possible Partnership, Anthony Hobley. And it’s looking for concrete proposals from industry players for getting to net zero.

“A sustainable, zero-carbon global economy will, literally and figuratively, rest on concrete.”

Anthony Hobley

The concrete industry has long recognised it needs to act on climate change, since the material accounts for seven per cent of global emissions, and is the second-most used material, after water.  As urbanisation increases so does its impact.

Since 1990, the sector claims to have reduced the carbon intensity of its product by 20 per cent, and last year the Global Cement and Concrete Association published its Climate Ambition Statement, that sets a target of delivering carbon-neutral concrete by 2050.

With this, 40 of the world’s leading cement and concrete companies (accounting for around 40 per cent of global production), signed up to make the challenging transition to eliminate the sector’s climate impact.

It has now joined forces with the World Economic Forum to launch the Concrete Action for Climate initiative as part of the Mission Possible Partnership.

Demand signals needed

But achieving it also rests upon strong demand-side signals from developers and administrations to create a market for low-carbon cement and concrete. Many are unaware of the possibilities.

There is enormous potential for innovation in the built environment to use concrete more efficiently, for example by the right signals coming from city planners, designers, and architects specifying the upfront carbon intensity of developments and infrastructure.

Hobley says that this could be underpinned by greater clarity around low-carbon label claims and a material-neutral set of standards. 

Government regulators could also focus on building codes for sustainability as well as safety, and incentivise circularity.

Circularity means promoting recycling since in theory concrete is 100 per cent recyclable.

Clinker (the main emitting ingredient of cement) is already being substituted with alternative materials where possible, and this can be extended in the coming years along with novel cement use. These substitutes are local however and vary from fly ash to ferrous waste.

Pilot-stage new zero carbon and zero concrete homes, built by Down To Earth, on a larger social housing new build estate alongside conventional homes that do use concrete.

Alternative fuels and the electrification of kilns can eliminate fossil fuels from the energy needs of production. Transportation can similarly be decarbonized. 

Quantifying and enhancing the level of CO2 uptake of concrete through recarbonation and enhanced recarbonation in a circular economy, whole-life context is a further option.

Carbon-capture can also be applied to unavoidable process emissions, but these are also local solutions in the supply chain.

Design solutions include increasing the efficiency of material use, and repurposing buildings.

Mission Possible Partnership’s 4-step process of collaborative R&D, zero-carbon pilot projects, green product labelling and monitoring of commitments. 

Some developers and architects build without concrete, using substitutes in foundations appropriate to the structural requirements.

Hobley says, “cooperation is needed across the entire built-environment value chain, with a goal of delivering the vision of net-zero concrete in a circular economy, whole-life context”.

The Mission Possible Partnership approach focuses on this approach with a four-step theory of change: 

  • create a coalition of leading companies committed to action
  • develop a roadmap that sets out how the sector will reach net-zero by 2050
  • help critical stakeholders develop commitments to action
  • and build the market infrastructure needed to track and support implementation

This is one of seven high-ambition platforms the partnership is creating with essential carbon-intensive industry sectors. The others are: aluminium, aviation, chemicals and materials, shipping, iron and steel, and trucking.

Hobley is inviting industry players to contribute towards the goals. Details can be found here

David Thorpe is the author of Passive Solar Architecture Pocket Reference,  Energy Management in Buildings and Energy Management in Industry. He lives in the UK.

2 replies on “How to make net-zero work in the concrete industry”

  1. Heartily agree that if we are to get anywhere with this major CO2 emissions issue (cement production contributes something like 8 to 10% of all world emissions), then designers, developers, administrators and infrastructure owners need to be aware of the issue and that geopolymer cement offers an immediate solution in some, if not all infrastructure areas. The Cement and Concrete industry cannot be left to do something about the issue in their own good time. Eventually, alumino-silicate cements (geopolymers) will replace calcium silicate cements but the industry needs a push from the end-users, and society in general.
    An example of a niche application which can be converted tomorrow is sewer infrastructure. As discussed in our papers (see ResearchGate, Terry Gourley), geopolymer concrete has a life in sewer infrastructure some ten times that of OPC concrete yet I am sure sewer system owners and operators know very little if anything of this option.
    Incidentally, in Australia at least, there are many decades of flyash (black coal) supply residing in tailings dams which can be recovered and processed relatively inexpensively. These previously considered waste materials can fill the gap until Cement Companies eventually switch over to making alumino-silicate clinkers.

  2. This is a thorny problem. The emission reductions to-date have come from substituting cementitious content with fly-ash from electricity production or slag from steel production, usually dubiously allocating all of the CO2 to the electricity and stel and letting the fly-ash and slag carry no burden into cement. Into the future renewable energy is replacing coal fired power – so no fly-ash and hydrogen reduced ores will still emit CO2 from limestone added to clean up the steel and produce the slag – the same amount of CO2 emitted in slag production. I’m guessing the renewable steel industry won’t want to continue carrying the slag CO2 for its concrete industry competitor. The other area of potential is fibre additives to get more strength from less concrete. Recycling concrete into concrete is a bad idea – crushed concrete doesn’t pack as easily as natural aggregates so needs more cement for the same strength – you lose more in the higher cement content than you gain from recycled aggregate usually. So, no easy answers!

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