Concrete industry could become net carbon sink within 20 years

New Low Carbon Concrete Routemap argues that emissions from the sector could halve by 2035
The concrete industry could become a net carbon sink in the UK by the 2040s, according to an expert analysis from the concrete and construction industry that details how innovative new technologies could allow the sector to absorb more greenhouse gases than it emits.

The Low Carbon Concrete Routemap has been published today by the Green Construction Board and the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) and lays out three potential decarbonisation routes through to 2050 for the carbon intensive industry based on how fast carbon sequestration technologies advance.

Even under its most conservative pathway, the study suggests carbon emissions associated with concrete used in the UK could halve by 2035, falling from 10 million tonnes of CO2e in 2022 to five million tonnes in 2035.

“The next 10 to 15 years are critical in driving the carbon out of concrete,” said Andrew Mullholland, chair of the Low-Carbon Concrete Group and co-author of the report. “There are steps we can all take immediately to minimise the quantity of concrete we use and the carbon intensity of production… This will require motivation and substantial effort from across the industry.”

Concrete is a major source of UKcarbon emissions, accounting for 1.5 per cent of total emissions. The industry’s emissions largely result from the process for making cement, which involves heating limestone and clay to very high temperatures and chemical reactions that produce large quantities of greenhouse gases.

However, a growing number of leading players in the industry have set net zero goals over the past two years and the sector is increasingly confident that a combination of carbon capture and storage (CCS) and alternative fuel technologies could serve to slash emissions over the coming decades.

As such The Low Carbon Concrete Routemap makes a series of recommendations for how designers, contractors, suppliers, and policymakers can work to accelerate the development and adoption of low carbon concrete technologies. Proposals include an industry-wide carbon rating system for concrete, similar to the energy efficiency ratings for buildings and appliances; new design approaches that use less concrete or lower-carbon concrete; and greater collaboration across industry and updates to standards so that lower-carbon concrete can be used wherever possible.

The report also recommends exploring options for reducing the cement content in concrete by using limestone and calcined clays, as ingredients such as fly ash and blast furnace slag become less available.

Andy Mitchell, co-chair of the Construction Leadership Council, said: “This report pulls together a wealth of practical advice and best practice from across the industry. But more importantly, it charts a route forward to net zero which must increasingly be the guiding principle of every construction project. I call on peers across the industry to read this report and take up its recommendations as soon as possible.”

Some of the recommendations put forward by the report are already being deployed, it acknowledges, highlighting the recent use of low carbon concrete for the main floodgate in the Environment Agency’s Boston Barrier, which saved more than 1,300 tonnes of CO2e.

The report also stresses the major role for carbon sequestration technologies could play in decarbonising the industry, but warns that these techniques are not yet commercially viable. As such, the authors call for a significant uptick in industry and government support to enable more research projects and trials for emerging carbon capture technologies that promise to both capture emissions from concrete production and capture emissions in concrete structures.

However, the report also counsels that sequestration should be seen as an “end-of-pipe solution” that should only be deployed once other more established opportunities for cutting emissions have been taken, it says.

A new UK Concrete Decarbonisation Taskforce, convened by the ICE, will now oversee the delivery of the Low Carbon Concrete Routemap, providing annual reports on progress across the industry.

“We have the solutions and a clear route forward,” said Mark Hansford, director of Engineering Knowledge at ICE. “The UK Concrete Decarbonisation Taskforce has a vital role to play in unlocking funding and working across the industry and government so that we can drive a step change in the decarbonisation of concrete.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *