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Reducing Emissions in the Use-Phase of Concrete Infrastructure

Rick Bohan
Senior Vice President, Sustainability

The Roadmap to Carbon Neutrality, released by the Portland Cement Association, addresses the five links in the cement-concrete-construction value chain critical for reaching carbon neutrality. Opportunities to lower emissions at the cement plant and optimize the manufacture and use of concrete are important parts of the value chain, but there are also opportunities to reduce and remove carbon once a building is constructed or a pavement is in place.  

Concrete made with cement creates long-lasting, energy efficient, and climate-adapted structures. Concrete’s thermal mass, strength, durability, and resiliency all contribute to cutting use emissions – and the use-phase of infrastructure and buildings is by far the longest in a building’s life cycle.   

Additionally, through a process called carbonation, concrete naturally absorbs carbon dioxide in the air. Concrete is a porous material, like a sponge, and carbonation is a naturally occurring process where CO2 in the air reacts with the calcium hydroxide within concrete forming calcium carbonate, a naturally  occurring  mineral  that  is  a  common ingredient in everything from toothpaste to antacids. 

In fact, for all the concrete produced in the U.S. between 1990 and 2018, more than 300 million metric tons of CO2 will be absorbed and sequestered by concrete over its service life. Concrete is actually considered a carbon sink as it permanently stores CO2 – even when it is broken up or demolished that CO2 remains permanently trapped.  

Concrete complements existing carbon sinks (like forests) by not just passively absorbing CO2 but also offering a place to permanently trap captured CO2. Carbon dioxide can also be injected into fresh concrete or introduced under pressure in chambers containing concrete products as a solution for storing captured carbon.   

How much CO2 is sequestered depends upon the surface area of concrete that is exposed to the atmosphere and the length of exposure. Over the course of its service life, a concrete structure can reabsorb at least 10% of the CO2 generated during the production of cement and concrete. That percentage will only increase as the industry continues to implement more sustainable manufacturing methods and materials and as we better quantify this unique process. 

In addition to being a carbon sink, concrete is the foundation of sustainable cities by making buildings and roads more efficient, cutting use-related emissions.  

Homes with concrete walls can use up to 15% less energy than other homes. Concrete does not rust, rot, or burn, therefore saving energy and the resources needed for regular maintenance or repairs to our buildings and infrastructure. Additionally, concrete makes urban areas cooler because its lighter color reflects more sunlight than darker materials.  

The durability of pavement is extremely important to driving down emissions as well. Not only are poor roads a nuisance for drivers, but they are also bad for the environment. Fuel consumption and emissions from vehicles depend on several factors, including pavement-vehicle interaction, which put simply is the quality of the road. When the surface conditions are good, vehicles can travel with optimal fuel consumption.  

The impact of rough roads has been seen across the country. For example, over a five-year period, 1 billion gallons of excess fuel was used in California due to poor pavements. Similarly, a study by the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub found that excessive fuel consumption on 5,000 miles of Virginia interstate highways resulted in 1 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions over a seven-year period.   

With the need to build sustainable infrastructure that limits use emissions, concrete is a key part of the equation. With the added benefit of its ability to sequester carbon, concrete offers a unique and versatile solution and building material.   

Lowering Concrete Manufacturing Emissions and Optimizing the Design of the Built Environment

Allen Hamblen
President and CEO of CalPortland

No matter the type of infrastructure, concrete construction provides a sustainable and resilient built environment, which is an important part of the PCA Roadmap to Carbon Neutrality. What is commonly considered construction involves four separate phases: design, construction, use, and end-of-life. Much like earlier steps in the value chain, the carbon intensity of construction can be reduced through optimization within each of these phases.

Optimizing concrete mixtures

Manufacturing concrete today is a complex process. From the generic concrete of residential applications to innovative ultra-high strength concrete for the tallest buildings and longest bridges in the world, concrete manufacturing requires stringent quality control and an understanding of the characteristics and properties of local materials. Along with cement, aggregate and water, most concrete today uses supplementary cementitious materials (SCMs) – admixtures and additives – that improve the properties of concrete for various situations. There are almost a limitless number of concrete formulations to meet the needs of engineers, contractors, owners, and others.

After water, concrete is the second most consumed material on the planet, which is why it’s such a critical step in the value chain to reach carbon neutrality. The cement industry’s Roadmap targets improved mix designs that optimize every single component within concrete – and by optimizing the manufacture of concrete and creating hyper-specific mixes, we can reduce emissions. By switching from prescriptive specifications to performance specifications, producers have the flexibility to design for the application of the project rather than for a specification that may be overdesigned for the use. With dozens of inputs and outputs, leveraging both conventional and machine-based tools allows producers to transition from a set menu of default mixtures to designing tailor-made mixtures using the right materials at the right time for the right application.

A cubic yard of concrete today represents about 500 pounds of CO2. By utilizing optimized mix designs, that same cubic yard of concrete will represent 364 pounds of CO2 by 2030, 273 pounds by 2040 and less than 200 pounds by 2050, a reduction in intensity of 60%. That concrete will still have the same strength and durability consumers have come to expect but with lower life cycle emissions.

Reducing direct emissions from concrete manufacturing and transportation

Making concrete requires energy, and delivering concrete requires energy.

Manufacturing concrete accounts for only about 5% of the total CO2 footprint of concrete. As the grid is supplied with more renewable energy, concrete production facilities will see a 100% reduction in the CO2 footprint.

Concrete manufacturers have committed to transitioning from diesel powered to zero emissions fleets to transport their products. Today, transportation accounts for about 6% of the total CO2 footprint of concrete, with a targeted goal of 3% by 2050 – a 50% reduction in delivery energy.

Avoiding overdesign

Given the ubiquity of concrete, it’s important to optimize how it’s used. Optimization in the design phase takes a whole life building design approach and utilizing performance specifications to lower carbon in the built environment is one approach to avoiding overdesign.

Every structure is designed on basic principles like strength, stiffness, stability, durability, and long-term performance. This Roadmap encourages a rational approach to avoid the wasteful one-size-fits-all approach that is the unknowing default selection of many designers. Keeping building codes updated to include the use of performance specifications addresses overly conservative designs that provide a false sense of security. Despite advances in building codes and design, this remains an issue.

Concrete’s wide range of performance characteristics allows for structural systems to be optimized by simply considering the size, shape and spacing of structural components. A common example is the use of higher strength concretes to decrease slab depths.  Similarly, high strength concrete can allow either reduced column sizes or wider spacing between the columns. While the cement content will vary based on mix design, the overall structural system can be optimized with a lower carbon footprint.

This Roadmap envisions that optimization in the design and construction phase can achieve construction efficiencies of 10% by 2030, 20% by 2040, and 30% by 2050. Optimized construction also means reducing waste on the job site and eliminating returned concrete. Today, more than 5% of concrete is returned from construction sites; with more precise design and by limiting excess materials at the job site, our targets for returned concrete are 4.25% by 2030, 3.25% by 2040, and 2.5% by 2050.

By working with concrete manufacturers, stakeholders, urban developers and contractors, we can lower concrete’s carbon footprint, achieve carbon neutrality, and build a more sustainable built environment for the next generation.

Reducing Emissions and Optimizing Materials Used in Cement Production: The Second Link in the Carbon Neutrality Value Chain

Rick Bohan
Vice President, Sustainability for the Portland Cement Association

The Roadmap to Carbon Neutrality, introduced by the Portland Cement Association, outlines a value chain approach to reach carbon neutrality across the built environment. The first two links in this value chain directly relate to operations at cement plants. Most Americans will never see clinker, the first step in the value chain, or cement, the main ingredient in the concrete we use to build our roads, structures and critical infrastructure.

Cement is a binder that, when mixed with water and aggregates, forms the durable and resilient material we know as concrete. Optimizing the ingredients in cement not only enhances the benefits of cement-based products, but also reduces the carbon intensity of cements. Cement producers are building on their proven legacy of lowering emissions to continue cutting greenhouse gases (GHG) while further increasing their energy efficiency.

Increasing supplementary cementitious materials

Cement includes clinker with finely ground limestone, inorganic processing additions, and precisely controlled amounts of sulfate. By optimizing what goes into cement, we can reduce emissions from material processing – for example, replacing some of the clinker with limestone or industrial byproducts like slag or fly ash, reduces the carbon intensity of cement while creating a product with the same strength, durability, and resiliency we’ve come to expect from concrete.

Currently, cements have a clinker to cement ratio of more than 90%. The remaining material, gypsum, limestone, and processing additions can be partially replaced with supplementary cementitious materials (SCMs). This directly reduces the CO2 from clinker production. SCMs include slag, fly ash and silica fume. In many cases, these are industrial byproducts that would otherwise be landfilled. Proper amounts of SCMs can improve durability and address the harmful chemical reactions caused by some aggregates.

Tomorrow’s cements are targeting lower clinker to cement ratios. Cements today include less than 5% of SCMs, but the industry is targeting increasing SCM amounts to 10% in 2030, 15% by 2040 and 20% by 2050.

Leveraging new cement blends

Portland cement specifications limit the amount of limestone that can be added in cement to just 5%, but portland-limestone cement (PLC) specifications allow for the addition of up to 15% limestone, fly ash or slag, which leads to a reduction in CO2 emissions.

There is a tremendous opportunity to increase the use of PLC, but in many cases, institutional inertia presents one of the greatest obstacles to widespread use. This Roadmap is an approach to accelerating the acceptance and adoption, not only of these proven materials, but also an approach to accelerating the adoption of the standards and specifications providing a pathway to their use.

Standards for the cement industry are the common language that producers, users and consumers speak to ensure consistency and uniformity. Different cement standards provide cement users a variety of options and choices. Ultimately harmonizing these unique standards will provide an even greater degree of flexibility.

For more than a century, educating producers, users, consumers, the government, academia, contractors, the construction industry, and the general public has been the hallmark of PCA; it is even more important today to educate stakeholders on all the options available with cement blends and their sustainable benefits.

Organizations such as ASTM International and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials play a critical role in developing. Updating these standards is key to helping the cement and concrete industry achieve carbon neutrality.

Cement producers can create more efficient and sustainable clinker and cement, but collaboration to update regulations and increase awareness of these materials will be required before the market will embrace them.

Optimizing Clinker Composition: the First Link in Reaching Carbon Neutrality

Monica Manolas
President, Ash Grove South, a CRH Company

In October, the Portland Cement Association released its Roadmap to Carbon Neutrality, which outlines an approach that leverages the entire value chain to lower emissions. The first link in that value chain is clinker; clinker is a binding agent that is the precursor to cement, the key ingredient in concrete.

While most Americans will never see clinker unless they visit a cement plant as it is an intermediate product, it is essential to cement manufacturing. The key chemical reaction to produce clinker is responsible for more than 60% of CO2 emissions from cement production. There is currently no way around this “chemical fact of life” and no viable alternative to clinker that can be produced at the scale society needs. There are, however, opportunities to optimize energy use, shift away from traditional fossil fuels, and utilize carbon capture technology to avoid emissions.

Decarbonated raw materials

Clinker starts with quarried materials like limestone, clay, shale, and sand that must be heated and processed. To reduce these emissions, manufacturers can use decarbonated raw materials that have already been processed to no longer contain CO2. These materials often end up in landfills, so in addition to avoiding processing emissions, these materials are also brought into the circular economy.

Today, these materials represent less than 5% of cement manufacturers’ raw material input; with the right policies, that could be doubled. By 2050, the industry is targeting replacing virgin raw materials with at least 10% decarbonated raw materials.

Fuel switching

Clinker production requires material temperatures of nearly 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and those temperatures can only be achieved with combustion. The industry’s current fuel mix includes 60% coal and petcoke, with alternative fuels making up only a fraction of the current fuel mix. These alternative fuels range from cellulosic biomass to non-recycled plastics, residuals from paper and cardboard recycling, and agricultural wastes – all opportunities to give spent materials a second, productive life.

Current regulations limit the use of non-hazardous secondary materials, even when those materials can be beneficially used in lieu of fossil fuels. Cement plants are already equipped to use alternative fuel materials. With the right policies and regulations, alternative fuels could make up 50% of the industry’s fuel mix.

The industry is also advocating for the use of “transition” fuels, like natural gas, while renewable fuel sources become available at scale. Displacing traditional fossil fuels with natural gas in the near-term cuts CO2 combustion emissions by 24%. With the right infrastructure investment, cement producers can switch to renewable sources of electricity like wind and solar to eliminate CO2 created from fossil fueled power plants.

Improving energy efficiency

Cement manufacturing is already one of the most energy efficient industrial processes – with today’s technologies operating above 80% thermal efficiency. Producers are constantly looking for new opportunities to improve, and many cement plants are U.S. EPA ENERGY STAR certified for performing in the top quartile.

Using modernizations, upgrades, machine learning, and artificial intelligence the goal is to reduce the 3.84 MM BTU of energy it takes to produce one metric ton of clinker by more than 25%.

Carbon capture

In the long term, carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) is a critical part of cutting emissions in cement production. CCUS effectively captures CO2 to either be used to produce new materials or be safely and permanently sequestered. While at-scale CCUS will take significant research and development efforts, the industry continues to advocate for the right policies and investments to make carbon capture an integral part of any cement plant.

Clinker is the first step in a value chain that results in the concrete infrastructure we experience every day. Working to implement actions and policies and research and investment that bring down emissions at the cement plant is crucial for the industry to reach carbon neutrality and be a part of creating a more sustainable built environment.

Achieving Carbon Neutrality Across the Concrete Value Chain

Michael Ireland
President and CEO at Portland Cement Association

Portland Cement Association has recently announced the release of its Roadmap to achieve carbon neutrality across the concrete value chain by 2050. The cement and concrete industry is committed to addressing climate change and reducing emissions, and this Roadmap to Carbon Neutrality will guide us on our ambitious and critical decarbonization journey.

To reach this goal, the U.S. cement industry has aligned and PCA is gathering a coalition of thought leaders, researchers and stakeholders along the value chain that make this Roadmap a reality. 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. There is a strong need for broad collaboration even beyond the industry, and we are leading on bringing the right people to the table.

Importantly, many of the solutions included in the Roadmap are products, technologies and approaches that exist today – lower carbon cement and concrete are available today. By bringing together partners across the value chain, we intend to shift mindsets and increase awareness and adoption of these solutions.

The U.S. cement industry aligning under a formal and measurable commitment to reduce emissions comes at a critical time in our country. The construction sector is poised for growth, with the U.S. predicted to add another 121 billion square feet of buildings by 2050, the equivalent of constructing New York City every year for the next 20 years. This doesn’t account for the trillions of dollars the country is poised to spend reviving infrastructure, rehabilitating existing roads and bridges, and expanding construction in growing cities. Development at this scale means the cement and concrete industry has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to set a global example on building sustainably, utilizing new approaches, and advocating for updated technology.

America’s cement producers have a strong culture of innovation and are in constant pursuit of finding efficient ways of producing the high-quality cement our nation needs for homes, highways, hospitals and infrastructure. The Roadmap accelerates industry alignment and identifies challenges and barriers that must be addressed in order to achieve carbon neutrality. It enables our member companies and partners along the concrete value chain to address climate change and continue building a better future, shaped by concrete. We invite stakeholders to join this ambition to realize carbon neutrality across the full concrete value chain.

Learn more about the Roadmap here.

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.

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.

Join Our Ambition to Reach Carbon Neutrality Across the Concrete Value Chain

In late 2020, the Portland Cement Association (PCA) released a climate ambition statement: PCA and its members will develop a roadmap by the end of 2021 to facilitate member companies achieving carbon neutrality across the concrete value chain by 2050.

This roadmap will guide us on perhaps the most ambitious decarbonization journey ever attempted. The entire value chain of clinker, cement, concrete, construction, and carbonation (concrete as a carbon sink) is an integral part of tomorrow’s circular economy and each area has its own part to play. This roadmap enables the construction sector to meet this sustainability goal and collaboration with industry and private partners will be imperative to realize the multitude of solutions outlined.

We invite stakeholders along this value chain to join this ambition to realize carbon neutrality not just in one sector but across the full concrete value chain.

Cement and concrete have been pivotal in building resilient communities that enable people to live safe, productive and healthy lives via structures that withstand natural and man-made disasters. PCA members are committed to delivering products that meet those needs as well as drive down emissions and achieve the industry’s environmental goals.

This roadmap enables our member companies and partners along the concrete value chain to continue building a better future, shaped by concrete. On behalf of America’s cement manufacturers, we hope you will join us on this journey.

Learn more about the five aspects of decarbonization that make up our roadmap.

Sign up below to receive detailed updates on the cement and concrete industry’s roadmap in the coming months and how we plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

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.