Cement- The CO<sub>2</sub> Problem

Cement- The CO2 Problem

Cement is globally one of the most widely used man made materials and is second only to water as the most consumed resource on the planet. It is the crucial ingredient in concrete which as we all know is used for the construction building tower blocks, offices, car parks, bridges and dams.

In the UK, cement was an essential component in the wave of post-World War Two development, particularly in heavily bombed cities such as Birmingham, Coventry, Hull and Portsmouth- due to its ability to be mass produced very quickly upon demand, and its durability and longevity once constructed. Production of cement and concrete has increased more than thirtyfold since 1950 and almost fourfold since 1990, and has been widely embraced by architects, developers and builders, as a remarkably good, affordable building material.

What's the problem?

However, the recent COP24 meeting in Katowice, has highlighted the dark side of cement and its use within concrete – it has a massive carbon footprint. In 2016, world cement production generated about 2.2 billion tonnes of CO2, and now accounts for about 8% of the worlds CO2 emissions. To put this into context, if the cement industry was a country, it would be the third largest CO2 emitter in the world, behind only the United States and China.

For the first time since the 2015 COP21 meeting in Paris, where the Paris agreement subsequently emerged, cement industry leaders were at COP24 and collectively agreed with scientific researchers that annual emissions from cement need to fall by at least 16% by 2030, only 11 years away. The sector has made progress to reduce emissions in recent years through improving energy efficiency of new plants and burning waste materials instead of fossil fuels; this alone has seen average CO2 emissions per tonne reduce by 18% over the last few decades. Though the newly developed Global Cement and Concrete Association recognise that far more needs to be done, and have therefore stated they will shortly be releasing a series of sustainability guidelines – something that may be of particular interest to architects, construction companies, and our Technical Consultants here at Elmhurst Energy.

The BBC report on the CO2 impact of the cement and concrete industry highlights a series of actions that may contribute to reducing the emissions generated from using the materials, and removing excess CO2 already present in the atmosphere, for which the use of the materials has inevitably contributed to. These measures include: carbon capture and storage, novel cements, alternative fuels and energy efficiency.

It is recognised that there has been a drive towards innovation of new cement products with low or zero carbon content. New techniques include using bacteria to grow bio- concrete bricks by placing sand in moulds and injecting with microorganisms. However, there are concerns that very few of these low carbon cements reach commercialisation and are applied at scale in industry. This is a sector largely dominated by a small number of major producers who are historically reluctant to change, meaning architects, engineers, contractors and clients are also understandably cautious about using new materials because they are not yet considered proven innovation. The GCCA are reinforcing how important sustained government support will be in ensuring these new products are pushed into industry, which will mean they need to apply constant pressure, and provide funding for investment.

This is a similar situation to when renewables were first innovated in the early twenty first century, many were reluctant to take up the concept. However, with consistent government support and schemes such as the Renewable Heat Incentive and Feed in Tariff, uptake has grown considerably and price has therefore dropped, making the switch more affordable.

Elmhurst Energy Consultancy have been at the forefront of building energy efficiency modelling since it’s initiation towards the end of the twentieth century, and recognise that the uptake in new materials with lower carbon emissions and improved efficiency is slow because they are often not able to be reflected in building modelling, so the investment in alternative technologies is not reflected in the SAP or EPC rating. For those designing a building or looking for advice on what materials would be best to use, our expert consultants have over 25 years’ experience in assisting with building regulations compliance, so are well placed to advise you on what products would ensure maximum efficiency, longevity and sustainability.


To discuss you products, project or idea with our consultants, please call us on 01455 883 259 or email consultancy@elmhurstenergy.co.uk


Article published on 17th December 2018

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