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Building More Sustainable Infrastructure

Sean O’Neill
SVP Government Affairs, PCA

Last month, President Biden announced a sweeping $2 trillion/8-year infrastructure plan which included repairs to roads and bridges, jump starting transit projects and rebuilding schools and hospitals. This plan also called for every dollar spent to be used to prevent, reduce and withstand the impacts of the climate crisis. Additionally, Republicans in the Senate recently proposed a $568 billion/5-year infrastructure plan and House and Senate Committees are currently drafting multi-year surface transportation authorization bills.

In addition to the prospect of Federal action on infrastructure this year, the U.S. is projected to add 121 billion square feet of buildings by 2050, the equivalent of constructing New York City every year for the next 20 years, leading to what will likely be unprecedented level of construction, maintenance and renovations.

Cement and concrete are uniquely positioned to help quickly and cost-effectively meet these infrastructure demands and sustainability requirements. Concrete made with cement is a proven material – it’s strong and durable, requires minimal repairs over its lifetime, and improves the thermal mass of buildings, helping them be more energy efficient. The industry is also committed to reducing its emissions and achieving carbon neutrality across the concrete value chain – something that will require partnerships from legislators and regulators.

At the end of April, the industry hosted a virtual Fly In, meeting with members of Congress to discuss how we can reinvest in American infrastructure, jobs and build for a sustainable future.

Concrete is the second most-utilized material in the world (after water) and the U.S. uses about 260 million cubic yards of concrete each year. We have been working to reduce emissions in our own industry and throughout the built environment for years and are currently developing  a roadmap to bring us to carbon neutrality by 2050. Through innovative technology, increased use of alternative fuels and lower carbon cement options, we can achieve carbon neutrality across the cement and concrete value chain. Now we need policymakers to invest too and create policies and regulations that spur innovation and drive demand for low-carbon cement.

There are multiple levers to reducing emissions in the cement industry. One that would make an immediate impact is increasing use and specification of alternative cement blends such as portland limestone cement (PLC), which takes less energy to produce and can reduce emission by up to 10%. However, currently, PLC is not able to be used in many states. That can be remedied with policy makers encouraging DOT’s to allow for the use of and increase the uptake of this cement blend.

Another way to further reduce emissions in the near-term would be to approve the use of alternative fuels such as unrecyclable plastics, carpet remnants and tires, which are less carbon intensive than traditional fossil fuels and keep the materials out of landfills.

Long term, the industry and the government need to invest in emerging technologies for carbon capture. In order to meet the carbon reduction targets, this technology is crucial and will make up the bulk of emissions reductions.

As is often the case, sustainability improvements beget cost savings too, reducing energy use in buildings or gas consumed by cars saves building residents and drivers money. Over the long-term, building with concrete saves money:  every $1 spent on resilient building and construction – such as structures made with reinforced concrete – can save $6 in recovery costs in the event of a natural disaster; and the same goes for pavements as concrete’s typical lifespan of 30 to 50 years can give the public more years of service per dollar spent than other materials.

The road to sustainable development requires continued collaboration from government, industry, academia and the private sector to continue innovation in building materials that enable sustainable development while meeting greenhouse gas reduction targets. Concrete can be an important foundation of that road.

To learn more about the cement and concrete industry’s commitment to sustainability visit shapedbyconcrete.com.

Paving the Way to a Sustainable Future

Tom Beck
President, Continental Cement

Concrete is the foundation of our transportation system – forming the roads, bridges and runways that connect us across the nation. It is also the foundation of a sustainable transportation system, playing a role in cutting vehicle emissions and energy expended on maintenance.

Fuel consumption and vehicle emissions depend on factors like vehicle size and engine type. However, drivers might be surprised to learn the condition of the roads we drive on also impacts our vehicles’ fuel efficiency. In fact, damaged pavements can increase fuel use – and their associated greenhouse gas emissions – by as much as 15%.

There are three factors that create additional, unnecessary friction for vehicles leading to reduced fuel efficiency:

  1. The roughness of the road, commonly seen and felt as cracks and potholes.
  2. The texture of the road, which impacts noise, smoothness, and traction.
  3. The stiffness of the road, affecting the amount to which a pavement bends under the weight of vehicles.

To create more optimal pavement conditions, we must build and maintain stiffer and smoother roads – and concrete pavement meets both criteria.

Concrete pavements can prove a useful solution for transportation departments, and therefore states, to meet emissions targets by reducing the fuel consumption of the vehicles that drive on them.

Studies across the U.S. have shown the impact of rough pavements on the environment. In an analysis of Missouri’s highway network, researchers found that improving the state’s roads with smoother more durable pavement would result in significant emissions reductions of 29.9 million metric tons of C02[1]. This would be the equivalent of greenhouse gas emissions from 6.4 million passenger vehicles in one year.

According to research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Concrete Sustainability Hub, if concrete pavements comprised the entire U.S. road system, fuel consumption would decrease by an estimated 3% nationwide, because concrete roads are inherently smooth and stiff. This decrease in fuel consumption corresponds to a reduction of approximately 46.5 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, annually.

Not only do concrete pavements contribute to reduced emissions, the fact that they also have the longest lifespan of any paving material makes them the most sustainable paving option. A survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Transportation found that concrete pavements last an average of 29.4 years before a major rehabilitation is required. Due to their durability, they do not deteriorate as quickly as other pavement types and requires less frequent maintenance – which saves energy and emissions associated with that upkeep.

When I think about paving the way to a more sustainable future, it is literally shaped by concrete.

A ‘Greener’ Cement Supporting Sustainability and Reducing Carbon Footprint

Filiberto Ruiz
President and Chief Executive Officer, Votorantim Cimentos North America
Vice Chairman, PCA Board of Directors

Concrete is ubiquitous in our daily lives. As the world’s most-used man-made material, it is an essential part of infrastructure improvements and new construction throughout North America. Concrete is durable; resilient; doesn’t rust, rot, or burn; and can withstand powerful storms. Now, it is also greener.

Portland-limestone cement (PLC) is a type of cement that has been common internationally for decades but is still relatively new to North America. PLC’s main benefit is a lower carbon footprint, with CO2 emissions reduced during production by 10% on average. In fact, by shifting production to PLC, manufacturers have already reduced CO2 emissions by more than 325,000 metric tons in the U.S. from 2012-2018 — equivalent to the amount of CO2 stored in over 400,000 acres of forest — without sacrificing the material’s physical properties needed for their projects.

Here are a few examples how PLC is already helping reduce CO2 emissions in the U.S.:

  • Using PLC contributed to a 50% lower carbon footprint for Mississippi State University’s Davis Wade Stadium.
  • Using PLC to build new bridge decks, the Tennessee Department of Transportation saved about 50 lbs. of CO2 for each cubic yard of concrete – the equivalent of the energy emissions from charging 2,892 smartphones.
  • Using PLC to construct the University of California, San Diego biomedical research facility resulted in a 160-ton reduction in CO2 emissions, which is equal to the energy emissions from burning 176,298 lbs of coal.
  • The ongoing construction of the Drexel University Academic Tower is using PLC and saving about 370 tons of CO2 emissions – equivalent to energy emissions from 41,634 gallons of gasoline consumed.

 
These examples prove that as we continue to rely on concrete to support our thriving cities and rural areas, the cement and concrete industry is working diligently to ensure the building materials we need are becoming more sustainable. Because of the scale at which concrete is used, even small changes to its formulation to make it greener can have a dramatic positive impact on emissions.

PLC is produced in a way that is very similar to traditional portland cement, the only difference being more limestone is used during the mixing process, resulting in a reduction in CO2 intensity.

PLC has undergone extensive testing and research in the United States and other countries to ensure its durability and resiliency. Builders and designers can expect the same strength with minimal disruption and change to their projects. The decrease in CO2 emissions makes PLC a more sustainable, yet equally resilient and dependable option as a building material.

The cement and concrete industry is committed to continuing research and innovation to provide greener solutions to improve upon these essential materials, helping to create more sustainable communities and an environmentally responsible future for our planet.

To learn more specifics about portland-limestone cement, visit greenercement.com. And, to Learn more about the cement and concrete industry’s commitment to sustainability visit shapedbyconcrete.com.

The Most Sustainable Building is One That Only Needs to be Built Once

Ron Henley
President – GCC of America
Portland Cement Association (PCA) Chairman of the Board

Concrete is a key part of building a resilient future, providing unparalleled durability, strength, and security. Not only is concrete better able to withstand normal wear and tear, but it also enhances the ability of our communities to withstand natural disasters worsened by climate change by reducing the risk of significant damage; protecting us against high winds, fires, and storm surges; and lowering the time and costs needed to rebuild communities.

When it comes to resiliency – which is measured by whether building occupants can safely shelter during natural disasters and whether the structure itself can survive – concrete is the most resilient building material. If a structure can be repaired rather than replaced following a disaster, it is faster, less expensive and more energy efficient return to normalcy for cities, residents, and business operations.

Increased durability from concrete provides economic benefits, especially in disaster-prone areas: every $1 spent on resilient building and construction can save $6 in recovery costs according to a recent study by the National Institute of Building Sciences. Furthermore, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasts predict more storms and major hurricanes than average this year. Considering that from 2015-2019 there have been at least 10 disaster events each causing over $1 billion in damage, savings from resilient concrete construction can quickly scale up.

Since the expected cost of maintenance and post-disaster repairs can exceed initial building costs, the economic case for resilient construction using concrete is simple: a small investment up front pays exponential dividends throughout the life of a building. Even with those benefits, studies have shown concrete to be cost competitive to other building materials at every level of resilience.

Builders, architects, and designers have come to recognize that buildings and homes built with concrete are more durable and resistant damage from natural disasters. Resilient structures also benefit our planet because their environmental footprint can be spread over several decades. Concrete truly offers the best mix of safety, resiliency, affordability, and sustainability.

As the most widely used construction material, concrete is readily available, cost competitive with steel and wood, and resilient. And it will continue to have a key place in creating a resilient – and sustainable – future.

If you would like to learn more about the resiliency of concrete or our campaign, please visit Shaped by Concrete

How We Will Get to Carbon Neutral Concrete By 2050

Michael Ireland
President and CEO at Portland Cement Association

The cement and concrete industry is taking significant steps toward addressing climate change and emissions. Late last year, the Portland Cement Association announced plans to develop a roadmap for its member companies to achieve carbon neutrality across the concrete value chain by 2050.

To reach this goal, it is imperative that we have partnership from stakeholders along the concrete value chain; we cannot address this problem alone. Only by working together as an industry can we hope to realize the multitude of solutions that must be developed across policies and regulations, technology and innovation and demand generation.

The United States industry aligning under a formal and measurable commitment to reduce emissions comes at a critical time in our country. As the U.S. transitions into a Biden administration, our industry is optimistic about the potential of environmental progress being made in a bipartisan manner. We are hopeful for the opportunity to further collaborate with federal officials and work together to achieve our shared climate goals.

Additionally, the economic and health crisis brought on by COVID-19 represents an opportunity to build back better. Responsible leadership in the manufacturing and use of cement and concrete will be a critical part of creating a more sustainable built environment and future. After all, cement and concrete are the foundation of our homes, connect our communities, encourage trade and enable prosperity.

The cement and concrete industry will be a leading voice in enabling the construction sector to rise and meet this challenge. With the formation of PCA’s new Sustainability Council, comprised of sustainability experts from our members companies, and with input from external experts, we will develop the roadmap that will guide us on perhaps the most ambitious decarbonization journey ever attempted.

Cement manufacturers have a history of innovation and modernization. Cement and concrete was one of the first industries to address climate issues in the mid-1990’s reducing energy consumption by more than 35% while actually increasing production. Investing in new innovative technologies and working with academic partners like the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub will be key to ongoing research efforts. The roadmap will also explore how to stimulate demand for low-carbon materials, from building awareness to educating architects and developers on the latest sustainable options. We are proud to accelerate those efforts even further by developing this roadmap toward carbon neutrality.

We are committed to addressing climate change and supporting a sustainable circular economy, and this roadmap will enable PCA’s member companies to continue building a better future.