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Achieving Climate Goals is a Shared Ambition – Government Collaboration Can Speed Up the Cement and Concrete Industry’s Targets

Eric Holard
CEO US – National Cement Company
PCA Climate and Sustainability Council Co-Chair

The recent IPCC report has made unequivocally clear that efforts to address climate change must be accelerated. President Biden has set an ambitious target for the United States – to halve emissions by 2030 – but for that to mesh with the Administration’s infrastructure plan, the cement and concrete industry needs to reduce the impacts of carbon at scale, today and in the future. Portland Cement Association (PCA), which represents the majority of U.S. cement production capacity and has member facilities all around the country, is developing a roadmap to carbon neutrality across the entire cement and concrete value chain. This roadmap is a comprehensive plan for the industry to reach achievable carbon reduction targets. However, collaboration with government stakeholders is a necessity to achieve this ambitious goal, and the manufacturers’ ability to reduce emissions is dependent upon adapted regulations and support from institutions.

The U.S. is predicted to add 121 billion square feet of buildings by 2050, the equivalent of constructing New York City every year for the next 20 years, according to the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub. The federal government is also poised to spend hundreds of billions on reviving infrastructure, rehabilitating existing roads and bridges, and expanding construction in growing cities.

Development at this scale means we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to set a global example on building sustainably. Concrete is the only material that can meet the infrastructure rehabilitation and expansion demands at scale while providing resiliency and mitigating the effects of climate change. Additionally, with concrete, we have the opportunity to build with a material that also absorbs CO2 out of the air through a process called carbonation; carbon uptake in cement-based infrastructure can offset emissions from manufacture.

Fellow PCA member and Climate and Sustainability Council co-chair Massimo Tosso detailed last month how updating regulations on alternative fuels could decrease production emissions. Allowing recovered waste materials to be recycled as fuel would enable cement manufacturers to dramatically reduce production emissions and using these materials as fuel would divert them from landfills, avoiding decomposition and methane release.

There’s more that government can partner on to spur near- and long-term emissions reduction strategies.

Many opportunities to reduce emissions are ready to be implemented and only require federal or local government assistance. For example, portland limestone cement (PLC), a cement mix that reduces emissions up to 10% with equivalent performance and at a competitive cost, is available at scale today —but the demand is not there. If state departments of transportation (DOTs), which are some of the nation’s largest consumers of cement, encouraged the increased adoption of PLC by just 10% by 2030 we could reduce nearly 10 million metric tons of CO2 over that time frame.

Over 35 state DOTs already allow for the use of PLC, but we need them to actively specify it as a requirement for their infrastructure projects to drive down emissions. These short-term actions will be critical to meeting the Biden administration’s goal of halving emissions by 2030.

We must also invest in long-term strategies and PCA continues to be heavily involved in research and development of emerging and innovative technologies like carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS). However, regulatory hurdles are disincentivizing the development and adoption of CCUS. We still need to research how to best install CCUS technology at cement plants to maximize efficiency and efficacy. We also need to know where and how captured emissions will be stored.

Collaboration from government is needed to scale up these technologies as well as create a national system low-carbon infrastructure for the transport, utilization, and/or sequestration of captured carbon and generation, transmission, and distribution of low-carbon power and fuels.

PCA’s roadmap will guide what may be the most ambitious journey to carbon neutrality ever attempted by any heavy industry. But we cannot do it alone—we can reduce emissions much faster through collaboration with industry and private partners. And we need alignment from government, industry, and technology leaders on both short- and long-term solutions, regulations, and policy changes.