In the spotlight: decarbonising concrete and cement
INCIEN is publishing its second study on decarbonisation of the Czech industry. The individual chapters of the study present analyses and proposed actions for specific materials. One of them is cement and its use in concrete. What is the Czech Republic’s status in terms of the production and recycling of cement and concrete? What are the scenarios and possible emission and energy savings in concrete production, processing and recycling?
Concrete ranks as the world’s second most utilised material, surpassed only by water. It is recyclable, durable, versatile and long-lasting. Concrete, and especially cement, which is essential for the production of concrete, can together play a major role in decarbonising the construction industry. As the study shows, the majority of today’s CO2eq emissions in buildings are operational emissions related to energy use, but as the decarbonisation of the energy sector continues, it will be the carbon embodied in materials that will likely account for the majority share of life cycle emissions of buildings within the next 10-15 years. In addition to measures for decarbonisation of the construction of buildings, such as the use of wood as a substitute building material, there is considerable potential for extending the lifetime of buildings through modularity and circular reconstruction. But decarbonisation and the recycling rate of the building materials themselves will also be crucial.
“The cement industry and the downstream concrete sector are one of the pillars of the modern industrial economy and construction. And this pair of industries faces an extremely challenging path to decarbonisation across the life cycle of these materials as part of the EU’s commitment to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. In our study, we seek to clarify the strengths and weaknesses of different scenarios and the potential emissions savings resulting from material-based solutions,” explains Benjamin Hague, Head of the INCIEN Think Tank.
INCIEN’s publication focuses on one critical area in terms of the material composition of cement and circular economy – reducing the clinker factor, which is key to decarbonising cement. Clinker production accounts for approximately 94% of CO2 emissions from cement production. And while cement accounts for approximately 14% of the weight of concrete on average, it carries approximately 95% of its carbon footprint. Furthermore, the research team mentions that several cascading material-related measures across the production chain from clinker to concrete are relevant to the clinker factor. And those measures are elaborated on in the study.
“Under different scenarios, replacing clinker with alternative materials and binders and reducing the cement content in concrete offers a 25 to 50% reduction in CO2eq emissions from cement production in the EU by 2050. In the Czech Republic, there is considerable potential in the use of waste materials from mining sites as a clinker substitute, as well as in the modification of the current standards, testing and application of alternative binders and cements in construction practice,” says Tadeáš Rulík, analyst and co-author of INCIEN’s study.
“We are aware that the cumulative decarbonisation potential resulting from these measures at the level of the entire cement and concrete sector in a given country (the Czech Republic) is in fact a complex interplay between many variables. The availability of individual raw materials, the composition of the demand for cement and concrete in final applications and the related technical and economic parameters, the compositions permitted by standards currently in force and, last but not least, current construction practices and the willingness of contracting entities, designers and builders are all crucial factors. We hope that the study findings will be of value not only to industry stakeholders as a useful summary, but also to stakeholders and policy makers for continuing discussions on this topic based on relevant data,” says Andrea Veselá, analyst and the last of the three authors of the study.
The study will be freely available to read and download at incien.org/publikace.
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