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26 May 2023 • Tom Haley

Net zero carbon: cement

If the cement industry was a country, it would be the third-biggest carbon-dioxide polluter after China and America.

The annual production of around 5bn tonnes of cement is responsible for around 8% of the world’s man-made emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, and around three tonnes of concrete are poured each year for every person on the planet.

If the construction industry is to achieve net zero carbon ambitions, we must re-think the use of concrete in the construction process. For all the initiatives and messages, it seems to me that, reducing the use of concrete represents the single biggest opportunity for change.

There are some attempts to address the issue. I noticed one contractor mandated low carbon concrete on all new UK projects but then, quite embarrassingly, did a sheepish and very quiet U-turn on that message only a few days later. This contractor is ‘concrete through and through’ and, if they don’t have the answer, how is the rest of the industry expected to know.

There is ongoing research into recycling and reusing cement from demolished buildings but, so far, the research has not found a way to produce zero-carbon cement on a commercial scale. In any event, its implementation will always be limited by the supply of demolished concrete so it is unlikely that reuse will eradicate the production of new cement.

This article was thought provoking and prompted the question: is it time we started thinking about concrete as a last resort option so that the use of other carbon friendly alternatives might thrive?

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