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Reducing Vehicle Emissions and Improving Fuel Efficiency

The role of concrete in improving the efficiency of our roads

Fuel consumption and related emissions from vehicles depend on a number of factors like the size of the vehicle and the type of engine, but most drivers might be surprised to learn that the quality of the roads we drive on also impacts the amount of fuel our vehicles use. On roads where surface conditions are poor, vehicles consume more fuel beyond what is actually needed to move, which leads to excess fuel consumption and emissions.

Damaged city roads can increase the amount of fuel used – and the associated greenhouse gas emissions – by as much as 15%.[1]

Concrete offers the most fuel-efficient pavement option. Because of its rigidity, concrete pavement can enhance the fuel efficiency of vehicles that travel on concrete pavement roads when compared to other pavements, and due to its durability, it requires less frequent maintenance and doesn’t wear down as quickly as other pavements.

If concrete pavements were used by the entire U.S. road system, fuel consumption is estimated to decrease by 3% nationwide, which corresponds to a reduction of approximately 46.5 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.[2]

Three key pavement factors affect a vehicle’s fuel efficiency

  • The roughness of the road, commonly seen and felt as cracks and potholes
  • The texture of the road’s surface, which impacts traction when wet
  • The likelihood that the pavement will bend under the weight of the vehicles

As these three factors create additional, unnecessary friction for vehicles and reduce their fuel efficiency, optimizing pavement conditions can reduce CO2 emissions. There are two strategies for creating more optimal pavement conditions: build stiffer pavements and maintain smoother pavements – and concrete pavement offers both.

Facts and stats

Studies across the U.S. have shown the impact of poor pavements:

  • An analysis of approximately 50,000 miles of highway in California found that over a five-year period 1 billion gallons of excess fuel was used.
  • A study of 5,000 miles of Virginia’s interstate highways found that excessive fuel consumption resulted in 1 million tons of CO2 over a seven-year period.
  • When looking at 40-ton trucks (used for freight and trucking), decreasing the impacts of deflection through stiffer roads can lead to a fuel savings of up to 4%, which translates to 2 million tons of CO2.

For additional information, please visit the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub.

For more information about the sustainability properties of concrete, visit Sustainability Practices in the Cement and Concrete Industry.

Sustainability Practices in the Cement and Concrete Industry

The role of concrete in building a low-carbon, circular economy

Every year, the U.S. uses approximately 260 million cubic yards of concrete to build highways, bridges, runways, water and sewage pipes, buildings and homes, dams, sidewalks and driveways. As the second most used material on the planet after water, the U.S. cement industry is committed to minimizing emissions, waste, energy consumption and the use of virgin raw materials.

Cement is becoming more energy efficient – and the industry continues to progress on efficiency

The cement industry began to address climate change in the mid-1990s—one of the first industries to do so.

  • Over the past 47 years, U.S. cement manufacturers lowered energy consumption by 37% while still increasing production.
  • The industry has reduced its use of traditional fossil fuels by over 15%.
  • In 2019, The Environmental Protection Agency ENERGY STAR® Program recognized 95 manufacturing facilities in the U.S. as ENERGY STAR® certified for operating in the top 25 percent of efficiency performance in their respective industry sectors. The cement industry represented 13 of those facilities.
  • According to 2019 ENERGY STAR® data, cement plants have reduced energy-related carbon emissions by 1.5 million metric tons, annually.

 

Leading the use and development of alternative fuels

The cement industry is a leader in sustainable material and fuel use. In fact, the cement industry expands the circular economy by diverting waste materials from landfills and uses them for fuel or incorporates them as valuable additives.

  • Burning alternative fuels in cement kilns like scrap tires, packaging, plastics and solvents conserves valuable fossil fuels while safely destroying wastes that would otherwise be deposited in landfills.
  • Elements like aluminum, iron and silica that are used to produce clinker can come from industrial byproducts of the coal and steel industry, creating better and more sustainable uses for these byproducts.
  • The Construction Materials Recycling Association estimates that about 140 million tons of concrete are recycled each year in the U.S., reducing the environmental impact of construction projects.

 

Lowering emissions in buildings and our urban environments

The durability, resiliency and insulating qualities of cement-related products lower our environmental footprint as a society. Considered across their full lifecycle, cement and concrete building materials are also valuable contributors to a low-carbon circular economy.

  • According to the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub, by adopting the latest building codes and concrete mixes, emissions from U.S. office buildings could decrease by 12%.
  • Concrete does not rust, rot or burn, saving energy and resources needed to replace or repair damaged buildings and infrastructure.
  • Concrete makes urban areas cooler as its lighter color reflects more sunlight than other, darker materials.
  • Because of its durability, concrete structures will not require additional carbon release to produce additional materials used for repairs.
  • Over time, concrete actually absorbs carbon dioxide from the ambient air, returning a portion of emissions from the cement manufacturing process to the building itself.

 

Sustaining our transportation network

A well-functioning transportation network is the backbone of the U.S. economy and essential for U.S. businesses to compete globally and provide the best value to American consumers.

  • Because of its rigidity, concrete pavement can enhance the fuel efficiency of vehicles that travel on concrete pavement roads when compared to other pavements.
  • Concrete structures, including pavement, are long-lived – concrete pavement has an average service life of 30-50 years.
  • Concrete pavement is less susceptible to damage from heavy vehicles and requires little to no maintenance throughout its service life.
  • Concrete pavements do not require lengthy lane closures, with roads able to reopen within as little as six hours. This reduces time-in-traffic auto emissions.

 

For more information about how concrete is the best choice for sustainable pavements, visit Reducing Vehicle Emissions and Improving Fuel Efficiency.

Connecting Our Transportation Systems

The role of concrete in connecting us to our daily lives and keeping our economy moving

The roadways and airstrips connecting our nation are integral to our society and daily lives. We expect smooth drives and safe landings, yet we rarely stop to think about the foundation of those expectations: the best material that can be used to surface roads, runways and other infrastructure.

Concrete pavements are a staple of our infrastructure – a durable, economical and sustainable solution for our roadways, airstrips, military bases, parking lots and sidewalks. Additionally, concrete pavements offer many safety benefits to drivers.

Durability

Simply put, concrete pavements have the longest lifespan of any paving material. It can withstand the freezing winters of the upper Midwest to the scorching summers of the Southwest, with an average service life of 30 to 50 years.

  • A survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Transportation found that concrete pavements last 29.4 years before a major rehabilitation is required – compared to asphalt, which requires major rehabilitation after 13.8 years.

 

Sustainability

Concrete pavements consume minimal materials, energy and other resources throughout its lifespan, giving it a lower overall energy footprint, and offers better fuel efficiency for drivers. Concrete pavements have a lower energy footprint associated with production, delivery and maintenance than asphalt pavement.

  • Concrete’s lighter color reduces the amount of power necessary for illumination and mitigates the urban heat island effect.
  • Tires driving over smoother roads get better mileage per tank of gas; the overall better condition of concrete pavement compared to asphalt gives drivers better roads and better mileage.
  • Concrete can be 100% recycled at the end of its service life, making it a renewable pavement option.

 

Economical

Concrete pavements require minimal materials and energy for initial construction and do not require repeated resurfacing, spot repairs or patching. Compared to other road surfacing materials which require constant maintenance, concrete is cheaper to use at the outset and less expensive throughout its lifespan because it does not require extensive upkeep.

  • It was estimated that using life-cycle cost analysis for pavements alone can save an average $91 million for every $1 billion spent, or 9.1 %, when comparing equivalent concrete and asphalt pavement alternatives.
  • The use of concrete pavement is less disruptive to traffic – the construction of concrete pavements does not require lengthy lane closures and roads can be reopened in as short as six hours.
  • Concrete pavement can dramatically increase the life of transportation systems, cutting the amount of yearly repairs and spreading them out over longer time periods.

 

Safety

Concrete pavement offers a number of safety benefits, including:

  • Deteriorating pavement impacts stopping distance and increases the number of work zones for repairs. Because of its longer life, there is less need for closures for repairs. Asphalt pavements require regular maintenance every two to four years to correct rutting, cracking, potholes, and other problems, whereas concrete pavements typically need only minor rehabilitation at 12 to 16 years.
  • Concrete pavement is easier to see due to its lighter color and reflects more light, making it easier to see objects on the road as well.
  • Concrete pavement ensures shorter vehicle stopping distances in wet weather and features a skid resistant surface. Concrete pavements never rut or “washboard,” like asphalt pavement, and both of these features reduce the dangers of hydroplaning and provide better, long-term traction.

For more information about how concrete contributes to a more resilient nation, visit Building Safer, Stronger Communities.

For more information about the sustainability benefits of concrete pavements, visit Reducing Vehicle Emissions and Improving Fuel Efficiency.

Building Safer, Stronger Communities

The role of concrete in helping communities withstand natural disasters, ensuring stronger buildings and meeting the challenges of climate change

Concrete structures play a critical role in making communities stronger and safer. Concrete is the best construction material to mitigate the impacts of extreme weather events and disasters. When compared to other building materials – there is no contest.

Durability

One word often associated with concrete is durability. There are two aspects of durability. One is the ability to stand up to normal wear and tear and last a long time. The other is to resist extreme events like natural (or man-made) disasters. Concrete is the best choice for construction:

  • Concrete lasts longer and costs owners much less in maintenance and repairs over the lifetime of the building.
  • It can be used for construction in all climates. It is non-combustible and does not rot, warp, mold or sag when exposed to moisture over time.

 

Resiliency

One of the safest places to be during a major storm is in a reinforced concrete building. In fact, most safe rooms and shelters are made with concrete. A structure’s resiliency, be it residential, commercial or public property, is determined by whether occupants can safely shelter there during natural disasters, and whether the structure itself can survive. If a structure can be repaired rather than replaced following a disaster, it’s a faster and less expensive return to normal for the residents of the homes and a quick return to business operations for commercial establishments.

Concrete can be incorporated into structures in several ways to make them more durable and disaster resistant:

  • Using concrete walls, floors and roofs offers an unsurpassed combination of structural strength and wind resistance.
  • Concrete is non-combustible and concrete walls, floors and roofs are given a good fire rating by the International Code Council. Most concrete structures (those with a thickness of 3 to 5 inches) are more fire resistant than structures built with other materials, making them more likely to withstand fires and giving occupants more time to safely evacuate.
  • Concrete is not subject to rot, which would occur in wood when exposed to warm, wet conditions.
  • Finally, hardened exterior finishes, like those offered by concrete, for walls and roofs of a home or business provide the best combination of strength and security.

Resilient communities start with comprehensive planning and a preference for robust structures with long service lives. More durable buildings with resilient features promote community continuity.

Lifecycle costs

Over the life of a building, the expected cost of maintenance and post-disaster repair can exceed initial building costs—making an economic case for investing up front in resilient construction. Although concrete is cost competitive when making initial decisions about building materials, the overall cost of construction is less about materials and more about labor and time spent making repairs and other upkeep on the structure.

Sustainability through resiliency

The most sustainable building is the building that is only built once. Buildings and structures with resilient design and materials are not only better able to recover following disasters, such as hurricanes or fires, they are also the new “green” buildings. Builders, architects and designers have come to recognize that more durable public buildings, private homes and businesses – often built with concrete to resist damage from natural disasters – also reduce the impact our communities have on our planet.

Resilient structures are good for the planet because their environmental footprint can be spread over many decades. Building more resiliently can help keep materials out of landfills, preventing organic material, such as timber, from decomposing and generating landfill gas (LFG). LFG contains roughly 50% methane, which is more harmful than CO2.

 

For more information about how concrete creates resilient transportation networks, visit Connecting Our Transportation Systems.

For more information about the sustainability properties of concrete, visit Sustainability Practices in the Cement and Concrete Industry.

Enhancing the Way We Access and Manage Water

The role of concrete in providing greater conservation and access to our water resources

Climate change predictions suggest that in the future, our world can expect to experience longer drought periods and larger flood events. With the continuous growth of our global population, the need to conserve and recycle as much fresh water as possible is critical. The structures that allow us to safely store and use water, as well as protect our cities from floods, rely on and are improved by concrete. Concrete structures play a critical role in water resource projects, enabling access to water and improving quality of life.

When creating structures to maintain our access to water, it is important to select a building material that provides the safest, strongest and most durable option. Cement and concrete are the foundation of strong and safe reservoirs, dams and canals.

Reservoirs and storage tanks

Reservoirs store water for irrigation, drinking water, waste management and industrial uses. Cement and concrete are the ideal materials for building reservoirs – cement creates sturdy and nearly impermeable structures, and concrete can withstand great amounts of pressure, so it doesn’t wear down. Concrete can also be used to make storage tanks for clean drinking water. These tanks can be covered and safely store water for long periods of time.

Dams

Dams play a pivotal role in controlling floods and protecting areas in flood plains, as well as providing water for irrigation, drinking or hydro-electric power. The United States currently has more than 80,000 dams in service. Concrete is the material of choice for dams. And while the Hoover Dam is often what comes to mind when people think concrete dam, concrete is also used to reinforce earthen dams too, acting like armor plating to protect earthen dams from washing out or failing when overtopped by floodwaters. For example, concrete lines the emergency spillways in the earthen Oroville Dam – the U.S.’s tallest dam.

Liners

Reservoirs, canals and other water-retaining ground structures need reliable protection from leakage. One way to provide that protection is through the use of concrete liners, which provide both long-term, durable solutions, while also enhancing the performance of the structure.

Liners are employed in a wide variety of applications, including ponds, reservoirs, landfills, canals and facings for dams and spillways. We even see these protective barriers beneath streets, buildings or on the surface of reservoirs to protect from pollution.

For more information about the sustainability properties of concrete, visit Sustainability Practices in the Cement and Concrete Industry.

For more information about the benefits and resilient properties of concrete structures, visit Building Safer, Stronger Communities.

Supporting Our Workforce and Engaging Our Local Communities

The role of cement and concrete producers in enhancing quality of life for communities where they operate

Cement and concrete producers operate throughout the United States – helping build and rebuild our country. In the communities where we operate, we are active partners collaborating with local stakeholders on a variety of issues.

Economy

The cement and concrete industry drives economic growth in local communities and nationally:

  • The cement and concrete industry employs 600,000 people in direct jobs that totals more than $8.8 billion in employee wages, in addition to hundreds of thousands of other jobs supported by the industry.
  • The cement and concrete industry contributes $100 billion to the U.S. economy each year.
  • A strong infrastructure system (drivable roads, safe bridges, resilient structures) enables all facets of our economy to continue running smoothly.

Health

Cement and concrete manufacturers help to ensure the health and safety of local communities through continuous monitoring of natural resources, partnerships with conservation groups and award-winning environmental programs.

  • Cement and concrete manufacturers continuously monitor air, soil and water quality near manufacturing facilities and quarries, providing accurate and honest information to government authorities.
  • The cement industry has reduced CO2 emissions by improving energy efficiency more than 41% since 1972, and many plants today use a wide variety of alternative fuels as part of their overall energy sources; ranging from 10 to 70 % of their energy requirements.
  • Cement and concrete manufacturers work with communities to reclaim and restore land from depleted quarries and retired manufacturing facilities for new uses, such as wildlife habitats.
  • Cement and concrete manufacturers partner with environmental organizations to promote environmental sustainability, nature conservation and biodiversity in our communities.
  • The cement and concrete industry ensures consistent worker safety standards in plants, and complies with safety, health and environmental regulations.
  • Manufacturing plants uphold a culture of safety through proactive hazard controls, regular team meetings and recurrent employee training focusing on jobsite and driver safety.
  • Manufacturing plants have a target of zero injuries and prohibit dangerous working practices.

 

Education

Cement and concrete manufacturers support science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education through onsite programming, fellowships and sponsorship opportunities.

  • The cement and concrete industry funds a variety of educational activities that increase public knowledge on the appropriate uses of cement and concrete by providing scholarships, fellowships, grants, and other support for the study of engineering and the physical sciences relating to the production and use of cement and concrete. Examples include the PCA Research Fellowship and ACI Foundation Fellowships, which provide financial assistance to students attending universities to provide them an opportunity for productive work in the cement and concrete industries.
  • Many quarries and manufacturing plants offer onsite programming for students, promoting interactive learning and environmental science education.
  • Cement and concrete manufacturers offer workshops and seminars providing academic faculty in engineering, architecture and construction management programs with the tools to teach the latest developments in concrete design, construction and materials.

 

For more information about how concrete structures protect our community, visit Building Safer, Stronger Communities.

Cement and Concrete: A Basic Foundation

 

What are cement and concrete – is there a difference?

Cement is the basic ingredient of concrete, so while these terms are often used interchangeably they are two unique products. Concrete is made when cement is mixed with water, sand and rock.

How is cement made?

Cement is a manufactured product created by a closely controlled chemical combination of calcium, silicon, aluminum, iron and other ingredients.

Common materials used to manufacture cement include limestone, shells, and chalk or marl combined with shale, clay, slate, blast furnace slag, silica sand and iron ore.

These ingredients, when heated at high temperatures form a rock-like substance that is ground into the fine powder that we commonly think of as cement.

Throughout the process, cement plant laboratories check each step with chemical and physical tests to ensure the finished product complies with all industry specifications.

 

How is concrete made?

Concrete is a mixture of a paste (formed from cement and water) and rocks (smaller aggregates). Cement and water are combined to form a paste that is then mixed with aggregates and coats each stone and sand particle. Through a process called hydration, the cement and water harden and bind the smaller aggregates into a rock-like mass. This hardening process continues for years meaning that concrete gets stronger as it gets older.

While this may seem simple, the key to achieving strong, durable concrete is careful proportioning and mixing of ingredients. Typically, a mix is about 10 to 15% cement, 60 to 75% aggregate and 15 to 20% water. Small air bubbles in many concrete mixes may also take up another 5 to 8%.

There are four different forms of concrete, each with unique properties and applications:

Ready-mix concrete is the most common form and accounts for nearly three-fourths of all concrete. This is the concrete that you see in trucks with revolving drums, often at construction sites.
Precast concrete is shaped in a factory as it requires tight quality control. Precast products range from concrete bricks and paving stones to structural construction components and wall panels. These units can be molded into a wealth of shapes, configurations, colors and textures to serve an infinite spectrum of building applications and architectural needs.
Cement-based materials represent products that defy the label of “concrete,” yet share many of its qualities. Conventional materials in this category include mortar, grout and terrazzo. Soil-cement and roller-compacted concrete—“cousins” of concrete—are used for pavements and dams.
A new generation of advanced products incorporates fibers and special aggregate to create roofing tiles, shake shingles, lap siding and countertops.