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Getting the Hard Parts Right

The GCCA (Global Cement and Concrete Assn.) might be a little biased when it claims that concrete is the most used human-made material on the planet with 14 billion cubic meters produced every year for use in everything from roads to bridges, tunnels to homes, and hydropower installations to flood defenses. But then again, it’s hard to deny that concrete is used a lot to build our world.  

And there is no bias in saying that concrete is an essential element of construction, with no other material widely available equaling its resilience, strength, and wide availability. However, the downside is that production of cement, the key ingredient in concrete, accounts for around 7% of global CO2 emissions. The new 2030 commitment by the GCCA outlines a significant acceleration in the pace of industry decarbonization.

The GCCA has published a detailed roadmap which sets out the path that the industry will follow to fully decarbonize by 2050, a target aligned with the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5°C. The roadmap actions between now and 2030 will prevent almost 5 billion tons of carbon from entering the atmosphere compared to a business-as-usual scenario, equivalent to the CO2 emissions of almost 15 billion passenger flights from Paris to New York.

The GCCA Roadmap to Net Zero sets out a seven-point plan to reduce emissions by another 25% over the next decade. This consists of:

  • Increased clinker substitution: The industry will continue to substitute clinker, the main constituent of Portland cement, with supplementary materials such as fly ash (a by-product of the power sector), ground granulated blast-furnace slag (a by-product of the steel manufacturing process), calcined clays, unburnt and ground limestone or recycled concrete fines. 
  • Fossil fuel reductions and increased use of alternative fuels: Building on its track record of establishing an almost tenfold increase in the use of alternative fuels since 1990, the industry will reduce fossil-fuel use at every point in supply and production chains, as well as repurposing society’s waste as a smart and greener alternative to fossil fuels. To reduce dependance on conventional fuels, GCCA expects alternative fuels to cover 22% of global cement kiln energy usage by 2030.  
  • Investment in technology and innovation: GCCA will spearhead innovation through its flagship global research network, Innovandi – research topics include concrete chemistries and kiln technologies. 
  • Novel chemistries and components in cement and concrete manufacturing: Innovative cements including both new clinker substitutes and new types of clinker and new concrete mix designs play an important role in the roadmap – with numerous promising approaches already in research or development phase.    
  • Infrastructure development for CCUS (carbon capture, usage, and storage): GCCA members will build on findings from their existing CCUS pilots in North America, India, China and Europe. The industry has committed to 10 industrial scale carbon capture plants by 2030.
  • Improved efficiency in the design and use of concrete during construction: GCCA will intensify collaboration with the construction industry, design professionals, and policymakers to develop the design and procurement framework that will drive efficient use of resources and products, use of reprocessed and recycled material, re-use of elements, and extend the lifetime of whole projects.
  • Establishing a policy framework to achieve net zero concrete: To deliver net zero concrete by 2050, the global concrete and cement industry is asking for support from policymakers to:
  1. Create a consistent and appropriate global system of carbon pricing to create a level playing field on carbon costs, avoid carbon leakage and ensure a managed transition to a net zero economy.
  2. Support low-carbon production technologies, such as carbon capture utilization and storage, by integrating them in public financing mechanisms and providing fair recognition of all carbon capture technologies.  
  3. Create market demand for low carbon products in construction regulations and public procurement.
  4. Develop the infrastructure and policies necessary for the development of green energy and waste directives that promote a circular economy.  

In response to the Global Cement and Concrete Assn. Roadmap, GCP Applied Technologies, a global provider of construction products, has solutions that address over 60% of actions outlined by GCCA to commit to producing carbon neutral concrete by 2050.

GCP recognizes that options must also be cost efficient and so they offer products that not only reduce carbon throughout the lifecycle of concrete but reduce costs. In 2021, GCP’s cement additives and concrete admixtures reduced their customers’ CO2 emissions by an estimated 23 million tons, equivalent to taking seven million cars off the road every day. 

GCP’s products can play a key role in reducing CO2 and operational costs, in addition to extending the life of concrete structures. The company’s sustainability goal is to further enable cement and concrete producers to save 500 million tons of CO2 per year, therefore reducing more than 1% of man-made CO2 emissions.

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