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Concrete is critical to climate-friendly infrastructure

Rick Bohan, Vice President of Sustainability
The Portland Cement Association

The U.S. is predicted to build the equivalent of another New York City every year through 2041. Development at this scale means we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to set a global example on building sustainably, utilizing new approaches and advocating for updated technology.

The Portland Cement Association (PCA), which represents the majority of U.S. cement production capacity and has member facilities around the country, is developing a roadmap to achieve carbon neutrality across the cement and concrete value chain. This is a plan for the industry to reduce the carbon impacts of cement and concrete at scale – today and in the future.

PCA’s Roadmap will guide what may be the most ambitious journey to carbon neutrality ever attempted by heavy industry. But we cannot do it alone, and there is no silver bullet solution. We can, however, 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.

The Roadmap outlines both near and longer term solutions to reduce emissions along the cement-concrete-construction value chain. In fact, lower carbon cement and concrete are available today and through collaboration the benefits of these products can be scaled up. For example, portland limestone cement (PLC) is a cement mix that helps reduces emissions up to 10% with equivalent performance and at a competitive cost. If departments of transportation (some of the nation’s largest consumers of cement) encouraged increasing the adoption of PLC by just 10% by 2030 we could reduce nearly 106 million metric tons of CO2 over that timeframe.

Today, alternative fuels comprise about 13.5% of the fuel used by domestic cement manufacturers, compared to more than 36% in the EU – even up to 60% in Germany. U.S. cement plants began adopting alternative fuels as early as the 1970s, so why do we lag behind other regions? Outdated regulations, which currently prohibit innovative approaches to reducing fuel emissions through increased use of materials such as tire-derived fuel, nonrecycled plastic and paper, and other secondary materials as fuel. Using these materials as fuel would divert them from landfills, avoiding decomposition and the release of methane.

Another innovative approach to bringing cement manufacturing into the circular economy is updating federal regulations and using the millions of tons non-hazardous secondary materials stored each year in landfills as supplementary cementitious materials. For example, cement and concrete made with fly ash can reduce emissions up to 30%.

While those short-term solutions can make progress toward reducing emissions by 2030, cement and concrete cannot achieve carbon neutrality without carbon capture technologies. Simply put, the chemical process of heating limestone to make cement releases CO2 as a byproduct. PCA continues to be heavily involved in research and development of emerging and innovative technologies like carbon capture utilization and storage. Collaboration from government is needed to scale up these technologies as well as create a national system of transport, utilization, and/or sequestration.

These are a few examples of the opportunities outlined in the Roadmap that the cement and concrete industry invites other stakeholders to learn more about and partner on.

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.

Alternative Fuels Key to Quickly Lowering Industrial Emissions

Massimo Toso, President and CEO, Buzzi Unicem USA
PCA Climate and Sustainability Council Co-Chair

It is critical that we urgently take steps to address sustainability and climate change, executing both near-term and long-term solutions. Particularly if we are to make progress on the Biden Administration’s target to achieve significant greenhouse gas reductions by 2030, industry, private and public companies, and the government must all work together. One quick action that would both cut manufacturing emissions and reduce waste materials in landfills would be to increase industry’s access to, alternative fuels. Industries, such as cement manufacturing, operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so increasing the use of industrial and commercial byproducts as fuels could lower emissions nearly 15% by 2050.

Such reductions are possible – and necessary – given the volume of cement and concrete needed for our nation’s critical infrastructure. Concrete, made with cement, is the second most consumed material in the world (after water) and is vital to our nation’s communities, forming the foundation of roads, bridges, runways and life-sustaining infrastructure. According to the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub, the U.S. is projected to add 121 billion square feet of buildings by 2050, and that is not including expanding and rehabbing existing infrastructure like roads and bridges under the Senate’s $579 billion infrastructure proposal expected to be passed later this year. The Portland Cement Association estimates U.S. cement consumption to reach a level of 143 million metric tons by 2040.

Today, alternative fuels make up only about 13.5% of the fuel used by domestic cement manufacturers, compared to more than 36% in the EU – even up to 60% in Germany. U.S. cement plants began adopting alternative fuels as early as the 1970s, so why do we lag behind other regions in greater use of alternative fuels?

Burdensome regulations – cement manufacturers face unnecessary legal and regulatory restrictions from the Clean Air Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act on the types of low-carbon fuels they can use. The cement industry has adopted the use of some alternative fuels, but further emissions reductions remain constrained by outdated regulations.

Use of alternative fuels not only reduces the release of greenhouse gases (GHGs), it also diverts materials from landfills, reduces environmental risks by storing less waste, brings industry into the circular economy and gives materials that had otherwise reached their end-of-life another use. If the Biden administration were to modernize regulations to allow for the use of non-hazardous paper, plastics and fibers as fuels, and ease the regulatory definition of discarded materials to encourage the use of recycled materials as fuels, cement manufacturers could help divert landfilled waste, contributing to a circular economy by avoiding the energy needed to process virgin materials.

As the industry works to further reduce environmental impacts, now is the time for regulators and policy makers to take the necessary steps that will unlock alternative fuels. In partnership with Congress, the Biden administration and EPA leaders, we hope to enable greater access to such fuels and ultimately realize reduced emissions – while finding a productive use for the nation’s waste materials.

Cement and Concrete’s Year-Round Health and Safety Culture

Chris Ward
President and CEO Lehigh Hanson, Inc.

June is National Safety Month, and for cement and concrete manufacturers, health and safety are not just business priorities, but values that set the tone of who we are as an industry. A strong culture of health and safety starts at the top and grows when employees at all levels are committed to voicing concerns, identifying hazards, and stopping unsafe practices while also proactively looking at ways to improve in these areas. Safety Month is certainly a time to emphasize these commitments within our own businesses, but the cement and concrete industry has thrived for over a hundred years because health and safety with an attitude of “do the right thing every day” permeate every aspect of our culture and operations.

Currently, our industry has many practices in place that foster the health, safety and vitality of our workforce. Establishing clear and enforceable policies, training workers to identify hazards before entering work areas, staying diligent about equipment maintenance, and ensuring all personnel have appropriate and well-fitting personal protective equipment (PPE) are all essential. The aggressive actions taken industry-wide to prevent the spread of COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic also exemplify our commitment to health and safety. Our people are our most valuable asset and thanks to the cement and concrete industry’s strong existing safety culture, we were able to act quickly and effectively to keep our workers safe.

By utilizing and enforcing rigorous standards within our plants, we are able to reduce injuries, ensure employee well-being and routinely work with local, state and federal regulatory agencies to successfully operate as an essential sector during this critical time.

It is our duty to continually improve our health and safety practices. We do not view health and safety improvements as proprietary, but rather seek opportunities to share best practices across the industry to elevate practices for our entire workforce. Lehigh Hanson is an active member of the Portland Cement Association’s (PCA) Occupational Health and Safety Committee, which spans the industry and is a resource to all PCA member companies. The committee also partners with regulating agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to find ways to share health and safety information and advancements.

Our industry is committed to collaborating on impactful initiatives and PCA continually offers resources to educate our workforce on the latest health and safety topics.

While we live these values every day, June is an important reminder that our industry is made up of 600,000 individuals, and it’s our job to ensure that each employee goes home at the end of the day healthy and whole.