Concrete is one of the most widely used materials in buildings and infrastructure. However, worldwide use of concrete represents approximately 7% of carbon emissions worldwide (Asad, New York Passes Low-Carbon Concrete Bill 2021). In an effort to help minimize the emissions to the atmosphere, New York passed Bill S542A that establishes guidelines for the procurement of low-carbon concrete. This bill will ensure the development incentives for the use of low carbon concrete by contractors. Continued progress to decarbonize concrete will be essential to minimize the large percentage of emissions that comes from these human activities.
In standard concrete production, mining of the lithosphere acts as the source that provides sand, gravel, and various elements that make up concrete that are the stocks in the first steps of concrete production. Those materials are then combined with water, sourced from the hydrosphere, and heat energy from the combustion of lithosphere sourced coal and petroleum coke stocks to generate the stock of concrete. During this process of creating the concrete stock, carbon dioxide is also created as a stock and emitted to the atmosphere which acts as a sink. The sink for the concrete stock is the infrastructure built from the concrete. The demand for concrete globally acts as the flow that requires continual replenishment of the concrete stock, which subsequently creates the additional carbon dioxide stock and the need for more mining and water extraction.
In new low-carbon concrete processes there are feedback loops added in to reduce the initial stocks and minimize the carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere. For example, CarbonCure Technologies removes carbon dioxide from the necessary heat combustion of coal or petroleum coke and injects it into the concrete to strengthen it and reduce the amount of cement needed. Blue Planet reduces the need for cement by taking exhaust carbon dioxide from power plants to inject into the concrete (Asad 2021). These feedback loops help reduce the initial material extraction needs while reducing the pollution outputs as well.
This new bill in New York can help spur corporate and personal actions as well. Companies like ECOPact are already ramping up production of low-carbon concrete to help meet these new guidelines while also satisfying voluntary LEED-Platinum certification requirements (Asad 2021). Corporations seeing the profitability of the market and policy shift to more sustainable products is important to ensuring adequate and cost-effective choices are available to consumers. With the growth of green concrete in the marketplace due to these new policies, it will be important for individual consumers to support those businesses focused on these systems improvements. Around 61% of individuals would buy “green items” if they cost the same or less than conventional products, so if corporations can market these new low-carbon concretes and make them cost effective, it will enable individuals to make that choice easier since there will be no cost increases and no decrease in quality (RetailMeNot 2015). Since concrete represents 7% of global emissions, these actions have the potential to create meaningful changes to atmospheric emissions and mining material reductions.
Author: Logan Callen
Asad, Harun. 2021. “ECOPact: Green Concrete For A Carbon Neutral Building.” Environment and Energy Leader. June 8. Accessed June 18, 2021. https://www.environmentalleader.com/2021/06/ecopact-green-concrete-for-a-carbon-neutral-building/.
—. 2021. “New York Passes Low-Carbon Concrete Bill.” Environment and Energy Leader. June 14. Accessed June 18, 2021. https://www.environmentalleader.com/2021/06/new-york-passes-low-carbon-concrete-bill/.
RetailMeNot. 2015. “4 in 5 Consumers Think Eco-Friendly Products Cost More “Green”.” RetailMeNot.com. Accessed June 18, 2021. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/4-in-5-consumers-think-eco-friendly-products-cost-more-green-300061649.html.