This piece was developed together with Thomas Guillot, Chief Executive at Global Cement and Concrete Association, one of the speakers of the "Webinar #4: Collaborative RD&D for Business and Industry". The webinar is part of the Developing endogenous capacity of climate technology through collaborative RD&D webinar series organized by the CTCN. The recording of this webinar is available here.
Concrete is, without a doubt, the backbone of our modern world. It forms the foundation for our infrastructure, buildings, and countless other structures that shape our daily lives. However, we can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to the environmental impact associated with traditional concrete production. The manufacturing process for concrete is undeniably carbon-intensive, primarily through the release of carbon dioxide (CO2) during cement production, a fundamental ingredient in concrete.
In fact, the concrete industry is responsible for 7 percent of global annual carbon emissions. Addressing this environmental issue is crucial if we are to achieve the ambitious goal of halving carbon emissions by 2030 and capping global temperature rise at 1.5°C.
Acknowledging the urgency of the situation, the concrete industry is taking significant steps to mitigate its carbon footprint, with the launch of the Global Cement and Concrete Association (GCCA) 2050 Net Zero Roadmap two years ago. By doing so, it became the first global heavy industry to set out a clear decarbonization pathway and help limit global warming.
The GCCA and its members account for 80 percent of global cement production capacity outside of China, as well as several leading Chinese manufacturers, and all are committed to reducing and ultimately eliminating CO2 emissions in concrete, through the implementation of the Roadmap.
However, like in other carbon-intensive sectors, achieving net-zero emissions in concrete production demands more than just commitments. It requires strong demand-side signals, demonstrating a market for low-carbon cement and concrete and the GCCA Roadmap targets CO2 reductions through greater efficiencies in cement, clinker, and concrete production, the rollout of renewable energy, the expansion of CCUS, better building design and construction, and maximizing the natural carbon absorbing benefits of concrete in the built environment.
Pioneering work is now accelerating across the industry -- the search and development of alternative materials and processes for making clinker (the binder in cement) the adoption of renewable energy, and the move towards commercial development and deployment of carbon capture. The construction industry holds significant potential for innovative approaches. Therefore, fostering collaboration is essential.
Through its Zero Roadmap Accelerators, the GCCA is working with the construction sector, national cement and concrete industries, policymakers, designers, and other stakeholders in the built environment to overcome procurement and resourcing challenges and advance the business case for greener technologies.
Governments worldwide need to support the industry by helping to stimulate demand for low-carbon concrete, reward innovation, and provide the right framework to accelerate the development of new technologies, like carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS).
Many global companies and organizations are already setting an inspiring example of how cement companies can collaborate with local authorities, city planners, and various stakeholders to champion sustainable and environmentally friendly construction practices.
GCCA member Cemex who has been working with Switzerland-based Synhelion illustrates that production of clinker using solar energy is possible. Votorantim Cimentos in Brazil is using discarded pits from the native Açai fruit, to turn into biomass as an energy source. And Heidelberg Materials is building the world’s first large-scale carbon capture plant at its site in Brevik, Norway.
In terms of innovation, the GCCA has established a world-class platform, which includes the Global Cement and Concrete Research Network (GCCRN) and the Innovandi Open Challenge.
The GCCRN serves as a hub for pre-competitive research on materials and technologies, connecting more than 450 scientists and 75 PhD researchers from around the world. This collaboration has already launched 10 core projects financed by the industry. Thirty PhD researchers are actively involved in those core projects, covering various topics, from AI-driven optimization for cement manufacturing to the impact of cooling rates on Portland cement clinker properties and innovative methods of recycling concrete, carbonation, and corrosion, and even carbonated microstructure via CO2 utilization.
The Innovandi Open Challenge is a pioneering programme that brings together start-ups and some of the world’s leading cement and concrete companies to work together on decarbonization projects. Now in its second year, fifteen start-ups have recently been shortlisted to help in the search for new materials and processes for making low-carbon concrete. The first challenge, launched in 2021, primarily focused on carbon capture and utilization, has already seen two projects go to the pilot stage.
The concrete industry's commitment to sustainability is not just commendable; it's necessary for the well-being of our planet and future generations. By fostering collaboration, driving innovation, and demanding environmentally responsible practices, we can transform the concrete landscape, reducing its carbon footprint and paving the way for a more sustainable future.