Rock to Road

Editorial: Concrete solutions

Lower carbon building materials and processes are the future

July 20, 2018  By  Andrew Snook

The earth is getting hotter. It’s a fact.

While most of the world’s political and industrial leaders put their heads together to find solutions to lower CO2 emissions and reduce the affects of global warming, certain products and their manufacturing processes have been signalled out as having particularly harmful consequences for our environment.

Concrete is one of those products.

According to a recent Washing State University article, traditional concrete production contributes between five and eight per cent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Identified as a significant contributor of carbon dioxide, many steps have been taken in recent years by industry to reduce the building material’s carbon footprint.


Between increasingly stringent government regulations and economic and environmental advantages, concrete recycling has become a fairly common practice in most countries.

As for new concrete, researchers and companies around the globe are hard at work looking for ways to reduce its carbon footprint.

At Purdue University, Jeffrey Youngblood, a professor of materials engineering, is researching how cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs), a nanomaterial extracted from wood fibre, could be used in the production of concrete for improving its stress resistance (for the full story, click here).

In the article he mentions how an increase in a concrete’s strength could translate into less concrete being required for some projects.

Since 4.3 trillion tonnes of concrete are used around the globe annually, according to Michael Goergen, vice-president of innovation for the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, even a small reduction in the amount of concrete consumed could result in significant reductions in CO2 emissions.

In Richmond, B.C., Lafarge is currently constructing a new $20-million alternative fuel co-processing platform that will allow the company to use anywhere from 50 to 80 per cent low carbon fuel materials in its cement manufacturing process.

The low carbon materials include construction and demolition waste, wood waste, non-recyclable plastics, and nylon fibres supplied from across B.C.

The new system will replace the plant’s 10-year-old low carbon fuel pilot plant that currently processes about 40,000 tonnes of low carbon fuel materials annually. Once complete, the $20-million system is expected to process approximately 100,000 tonnes of low carbon fuel materials annually.

That’s a lot of waste being diverted from landfills.

The Richmond plant also accepts drinking water treatment residuals from the Seymour Capilano Filtration Plant for use as a replacement of some of its red shale, a raw material used in the cement manufacturing process. This diverts a minimum of 10,000 tonnes of per year water treatment process residuals from being landfilled.

These examples of CO2 reduction during the building materials manufacturing process are only two of many different solutions being researched and tested around the globe.

With the hard work currently being performed by companies, governments and researchers worldwide, hopefully, one day, these types of building materials will one day not be synonymous with greenhouse gas emissions.

Here’s to a greener future for the building materials industry.

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