CSHub Investments’ Ripple Effect

A new roadmap shows how European Union cement interests, with much customer assistance, can clip carbon dioxide output from 1990 levels by 80 percent at mid-century. The ambitious goal fits the European Cement Association, based in Brussels—ground zero of carbon trading schemes, voluntary initiatives and regulatory pursuits aimed at net CO2 emissions reduction across the business and consumer landscape. It hinges on improvements in fuel- and energy-intensive cement milling, coupled with promotion of the energy or fuel efficiency inherent in concrete building and transportation slabs or structures.

The roadmap envisions a cut in CO2 emissions from 170 million to 34 million metric tons through 2050 by members and customers of an association best known as Cembureau. An umbrella of individual European Union associations and companies, it has a 20-member senior advisory group, half of it CRH, Cemex, HeidelbergCement, Holcim, Italcementi and Lafarge representatives. In “The Role of Cement in the 2050 Low Carbon Economy,” Cembureau traces five routes to its emissions threshold, including Energy Efficiency, specifically in the fuel- and electricity-intensive process of clinker production and cement grinding; Product Efficiency, centered on low-carbon concrete; and, Downstream, encompassing smart building and infrastructure. The three routes are pivotal to a reduction of 100-plus million metric tons of CO2 emissions over a 60-year window.

Citing estimates of 35 percent and 20 percent, respectively, for buildings and transport sector contributions to total European Union greenhouse gas emissions, “Role of Cement” authors conclude that a) buildings’ energy consumption is a major environmental concern, while concrete can achieve considerable energy savings over a building’s lifetime due to high thermal mass level and attendant indoor climate stability in the face of outdoor temperature fluctuations; and, b) concrete in transportation pavements can lower heavy trucks’ fuel consumption up to 6 percent by reducing rolling resistance between road and tires.

The Energy Efficiency, Product Efficiency and Downstream route activities dovetail with work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology/Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering-hosted Concrete Sustainability Hub (CSHub). Late last year, MIT announced that the Ready Mixed Concrete Research & Education Foundation and Portland Cement Association each approved an additional $5 million to support a second, five-year phase of concrete and infrastructure science, engineering, and economics studies.

Returns on the RMC Foundation and PCA investments will be realized beyond North American shores as sustainability and green building considerations shape construction material and product specifications and market potential the world over. CSHub data is backed by one of the world’s most credible academic sources, and can assist in documentation of CO2 emissions reduction in Cembureau’s Energy Efficiency, Product Efficiency and Downstream roadmap routes. Financial commitments to the Hub, consequently, should be embraced at Cemex, HeidelbergCement, Holcim, Italcementi, and Lafarge headquarters.

Over a 2014–2019 schedule, CSHub staff will build on initial advances in concrete and cement study areas, translating results into engineering practice. Work planned includes additional experiments on the composition of concrete to optimize its durability while minimizing its carbon footprint, and integrating life cycle assessment/life cycle cost analysis thinking into building design and the engineering of transportation and other infrastructure.

RMC Foundation trustees and PCA board members approved funding to launch the Concrete Sustainability Hub in late-2009, a year or more into a catastrophic business swoon. The initial investment and renewed commitment reinforce their belief that in a world of greenhouse gas emissions concerns and sustainability commitments, cement and concrete are part of the solution.