The Path to ZERO CO2 Production
The path to ZERO CO2 production in the concrete industry is a challenging one, but we at Crete are tackling it head-on.
A 2019 BBC study  found that the production of cement increased 30x since 1950, and 4x that since 1990. To keep up with demands in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, the production of cement may have to increase 25% by 2030.
Here we discuss
- Concrete and its Environmental Friendliness
- Concrete Producers, the Cement Industry and C02 Emissions
- Reducing the Emissions from the Manufacturing of Concrete
- Crete’s Approach to Concrete and Design
Concrete has been a popular material since its debut. It’s currently one of the most used materials on the planet, second only to water. It’s versatile, quick application, and low-cost, leading to it being the prime choice for many purposes ranging from roads, dams, buildings, and more.
The enormous popularity of concrete has unfortunate consequences, however.
While many consider the carbon footprint of concrete to be relatively low for how long it lasts, its widespread use has also made it the second-largest CO2 emitter. The manufacture of concrete makes up 5-7% of annual C02 emissions.
As it continues to be the prime candidate for many applications, there has been increasing unease aimed at its environmental consequences.
We’re very familiar with this conundrum because we care about the environment.
Concrete and Environmental Friendliness
As far as building materials go, concrete isn’t currently very environmentally friendly.
If the cement industry were a country, they would be the world’s third-largest emitter of C02  of (up to 2.8bn tonnes of it), after China and the U.S.A.
Producing concrete uses almost 10% of the entire world’s industrial water use, which can place a lot of strain on regions that are experiencing droughts or are otherwise lacking sufficient water.
In cities, concrete can trap heat and trap gases from AC units and car exhausts. It can worsen respiratory diseases via the dust from mixers, quarries, and factories.
Concrete Producers, the Cement Industry, and CO2 Emissions
Despite those issues, it’s easy to see why the concrete industry is booming, and yet why they face so much pressure. Both governments and scientists have lobbied for stricter greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions targets as climate change and its consequences worsen. A recent change saw the goal to keep temperature rises below 2.0 degrees Celsius to 1.5 degrees Celsius, alongside 77+ countries committing to net-zero emissions by 2050.
Very few in the industrial and manufacturing industries are willing to embrace the changes that they are being asked to make. Reaching goals like these is a challenge for most industries, but especially so for the concrete industry as there are many obstacles in the way.
Some of them include the following:
- It’s possible that the development of new technologies that may decarbonize cement might not be scalable for years.
- Cement clinker is the component in cement which gives it many important properties, such as its strength. Most of the emissions from cement come from the clinker process (more specifically the calcination of limestone), and so decarbonizing energy used in this process could never lead to the total elimination of emissions, only their reduction.
- The process of creating, placing, maintaining, repairing, disposing of, or recycling concrete is long-tried and true. Some have doubted the scalability of changing any aspect of these processes.
That being said, McKinsey is optimistic that CO2 emissions could actually be reduced by 75% by 2050 . Only around 20% of this reduction would come from operational advances; the rest would need to come from new growth horizons and technological innovation, whatever they might be.
One example of operational advances that have already been seen and largely implemented in the concrete manufacturing industry is energy-efficient measures. However, the decreasing availability of input materials limits the emissions reduction potential of alternative fuels and clinker substitution.
In order to reach emissions reductions goals, there must be more innovative answers to the problem such as alternative building materials or new technologies.
Reducing the emissions from the manufacturing of concrete
There are existing technologies such as carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS) and carbon-cured concrete that can positively impact the concrete manufacturing industry, but their development could take as long as ten years. Investment into their development is heavily encouraged, as research  suggests that they would benefit producers rather than reduce costs.
Most innovations focus on reducing cement in concrete mixtures, as that’s where most emissions are generated. MIT researchers had developed an experimental method  of manufacturing cement without CO2 emissions, where an electrochemical process would replace the existing system that uses fossil-fuels. This electrochemical process captures CO2 before it’s released, and could then be used for myriad other purposes, such as in the drinks or fuel industries.
Researchers at Lancaster University, UK, also created an approach that uses nanoplatelets from root vegetables (like carrots) to enhance mixes of concrete . Similarly, Dr. Sandra Manso-Blanco developed bioreceptive concrete , where concrete is layered with materials that encouraged CO2-absorbing moss and lichen to grow.
A material called GFRC , or glass fiber reinforced concrete, has a mortar made of concrete, sand, alkali-resistant glass fiber, and water. One of its main qualities is plasticity, which makes it ideal for thinner, lighter façade pieces. It’s already in use in Gaudi’s Church of the Sagrada Familia.
Crete’s Approach to Concrete and Design
Here at Crete, we respect and praise the constant innovation in answers to the climate concerns that the concrete industry poses. The leaps and bounds that scientific research has made in a worldwide effort to care for the world we live in are truly astounding.
Unfortunately, it will take time to make all of these greener and more eco-friendly options not only available to the general public, but affordable, viable, and scalable.
In the meantime, we do everything else we can to look after our planet.
- We recognize that every act of human production drains the Earth in some way. This is why we’ve pledged to do everything possible to not only run an environmentally responsible design studio but to consistently expand and define what it means to be green.
As much as possible, the materials we use are recycled and reclaimed; for example, the concrete we use in our pieces. Concrete is recycled first by being crushed and impacted via crushing equipment with huge jaws and impactors. It’s then screened to help separate dirt and particles within the mix from the desired concrete. Sometimes water flotation, magnets, and separators are used as well.
We also source locally and reuse materials whenever we can. This saves on emissions involved with transportation over long distances.
- We’ve even virtually eliminated water polishing, which is an industry-standard because it saves a lot of time and labor and eliminates grinding dust. We would rather save more than 500 gallons of water (on average) per project.
And yet, with all of this, we never compromise on the artistry or quality of our pieces. All of our products are one-of-a-kind, detailed, hand-crafted works of art, made just as our customers specify.
Our proprietary concrete mix utilizes embedded glass fibers to provide superior tensile strength. These gibers also provide the concrete with plasticity so that our designers can create the most beautiful and yet functional pieces.
With each piece created by the hands of talented artisans in our production facility in Baldwin, WI, our extensive finishing protocol ensures that each piece meets exacting standards.
At Crete, we know that beautiful, functional designs don’t have to cost the Earth, and it shows in our products.
- Rogers, L 2018, Climate change: The massive CO2 emitter you may not know about, BBC
- Watts, J 2019, Concrete: the most destructive material on Earth, The Guardian
- Thomas Czigler, Sebastian Reiter, Patrick Schulze, and Ken Somers 2020, Laying the foundation for zero-carbon cement, McKinsey & Company
- experimental method
- enhance mixes of concrete
- bioreceptive concrete