A widespread initiative focused on achieving carbon neutrality across the cement and concrete value chain by 2050. It’s a daunting challenge given the breadth of these industries, from the cement plant through the entire life cycle of the built environment.

One wonders if this goal can be reached, given that bringing down CO2 emissions from each step of the value chain will impact many industries and fundamentally alter the building sector.

The simple fact is that cement and concrete are the foundations upon which our modern society and our economic wellbeing are based. The question is not whether we can achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 but how it will be done.

We don’t have a choice here. The ever-increasing impacts of climate change make this imperative vital to our survival.

The Roadmap to Carbon Neutrality

Fortunately, the Portland Cement Association has mapped out how we can achieve this target.

But The change dynamics are not limited to industries in the cement, concrete, and construction sectors. Government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and academic institutions all have a role, and the drive looks forward to collaborating on this mission to achieve carbon neutrality across the value chain.

The five links in the value chain range from the production of clinker, the manufacture and shipment of the cement products, their use in the manufacture of concrete, how these materials are used in the construction of the built environment, and the capture of carbon dioxide using concrete as a carbon sink.

Each link involves specific targets, timelines, technologies, and policies to reach the goal of carbon neutrality from the farthest upstream to the final reuse and recycling phase.

The Cement Plant

 It all starts at the cement plant. Using decarbonated materials helps to eliminate CO2 emissions from processing traditional raw materials, such as limestone.  Replacing conventional fossil fuels with biomass and waste-derived fuels lowers greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. So too,  increasing energy efficiency reduces the amount of CO2 emitted for each ton of product.

 Carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) technology CCUS can avoid the release of a significant portion of cement manufacturing emissions into the atmosphere.

Creating new cement mixes using existing and alternative materials reduces emissions from mining for new materials while optimizing the amount of clinker used ensures emissions correspond to necessary production. Increase use of Portland-limestone cement (PLC)

 As an existing lower-carbon blend, universal acceptance of PLC will reduce clinker consumption and decrease emissions.

Construction, Design and Building

 Considering the specific needs of the construction project and using only the materials necessary, avoiding excess emissions. Switching to solar, wind and other renewable energy sources directly reduces emissions from other energy sources through recycled materials. Diverting these materials from landfills.

Designing for the specific needs of the construction project reduces unnecessary overproduction and emissions, incorporating just-in-time deliveries.

Educate the design and construction community. Improve design and specifications to be more performance-oriented, which will permit innovation in cement and concrete manufacturing.

Encourage advanced technologies to improve structural performance, energy efficiency, resiliency, and carbon sequestration.

Concrete Infrastructure in Use

Increasing buildings’ energy efficiency can cut energy use and resulting emissions from heating and cooling. Reduce vehicle emissions by improving fuel efficiency. Because of their rigidity, concrete pavements enhance the fuel efficiency of vehicles driving over them, reducing vehicle emissions.

Due to their durability, concrete structures (buildings, pavements, bridges, dams, etc.) last longer and require less frequent maintenance.

Concrete in place can be 100% recycled, limiting the use of raw materials and production emissions.

Every exposed concrete surface absorbs CO2, and throughout its service life, a building can reabsorb 10% of cement and concrete production emissions.

The Role of Policy

The pathway to carbon neutrality is more than targets, timelines, and technologies. Each link within the value chain requires significant policy support.

Federal policy should be realistic and technically feasible. It must recognize the significant technology, funding and market innovation needed for rapid decarbonization while preserving economic growth and international competitiveness.

These reductions will not come quickly and will require technology advancements, regulatory refinements, new ways of thinking about clean energy and industrial fuels, and increased resiliency of our buildings and infrastructure.

 However, the cement and concrete industry cannot achieve this goal alone, and effective federal policies are needed to help reach this goal. Without effective policies, the sector cannot attain the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.

The Portland Cement Association has identified ten major policy levers that can help the industry achieve its goal of carbon neutrality. They include:

  • Accelerated research, funding, and investment in manufacturing, material innovation, CCUS technologies and associated infrastructure.
  • Streamlined regulation, siting, and permitting practices for facility and infrastructure modernization.
  • Recognition and credit for industry reduction levers.
  • Community acceptance of CCRs, alternative fuels, CCUS, and other manufacturing technologies.
  • Consider a market-based carbon price – preferably a cap-and-trade mechanism – consistent with core principles, including fairness, transparency, and innovation.
  • Market acceptance of low-carbon alternative types of cement and concrete.
  • Adoption of performance-based standards for building materials.
  • Consider the complete product, material, and building life cycle in procurement standards and policy
  • Investments in clean fuel, energy, transportation, and industrial infrastructure.
  • Leakage protection for domestic manufacturers competes against less-regulated imports.

As noted, the challenges are daunting. But the pragmatic steps outlined in the Roadmap to Carbon Neutrality demonstrate that it can be done.

 For more information on the Roadmap to Carbon Neutrality visit here

Don’t miss the opportunity to watch the PCA webinar Collaborating on Carbon Neutral Concrete Construction, Available On Demand.

This webinar features Richard Bohan, Senior Vice President, Sustainability, Portland Cement Association, View Biography.

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