UK concrete and cement industry claims it can 'go beyond net-zero' by 2050

The trade body representing the UK's concrete and cement industry has published a roadmap for achieving 'net-negative' emissions across the sector by mid-century, in which carbon capture and storage (CCS) plays a key role.

The UK's cement and concrete sector has reduced its annual emissions by 53% since 1990 but must go further and faster to meet the nation's updated climate targets

The UK's cement and concrete sector has reduced its annual emissions by 53% since 1990 but must go further and faster to meet the nation's updated climate targets

UK Concrete, which is part of the Mineral Products Association (MPA), claims that CCS can tackle 61% of the annual emissions from the sector by 2050 – if the Government and industry collaborate to ensure that investment in arrays and related transport and storage infrastructure is scaled up. Captured carbon could be used to make new products such as plastics, medicines and cleaning and laundry products.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to unveil a new policy package for the CCS sector in the coming weeks as part of the Conservative Party’s plans to spend £800m on the technologies during the course of this Parliament. Major projects are due to come online this decade but the Party has been told that more must be done to support "dispersed" sites that are not located at industrial clusters. The International Energy Agency has said that CCS is “virtually the only technology solution for deep emissions reductions from cement production”.

The remainder of the emissions reductions needed for the sector to reach net-zero can be achieved through decarbonising transport; switching to biomass and hydrogen for heat; using lower-carbon materials and transitioning to renewable electricity. A smaller proportion of reductions can also be achieved by rolling out automated technologies in manufacturing facilities.

Going beyond net-zero will require the sector to develop innovative concrete blends which absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, through a process called carbonation. Concrete produced in the UK is currently not performing in line with the global average carbonation rate – but if it was, an amount of CO2e equivalent to 12% of the sector’s footprint in mid-century could be captured.

The sector will also need to scale up the deployment of ‘smart’ materials which can absorb, store and release heat as required by building occupants. Buildings which use this process – thermal mass – for heating and cooling are currently few and far between. But UK Concrete sees the innovation scaling up and reaching maturity in the coming decades.

Of course, the concrete and cement sector will need to work collaboratively with businesses in the electricity, heat and transport sectors, and with policymakers, to ensure that the measures outlined in the roadmap are possible. The roadmap assumes that transport and electricity will be “near-zero” by mid-century; that new product and design standards will mandate the sector to shift to low-carbon formulations and that biomass, hydrogen and CCS infrastructure expands rapidly.

Should all these supports come to fruition, the sector can reach net-zero without purchasing carbon credits for offsetting and companies will be less likely to move production overseas to benefit from more relaxed climate requirements.

“We believe that net-zero should be achieved by reducing emissions from the construction materials manufactured in the UK, rather than by ‘carbon leakage’ where UK production is replaced with imports that simply moves the emissions responsibility abroad,” the MPA’s chief executive Nigel Jackson said. “The aim should be to retain jobs and economic value in the UK whilst ensuring that the UK takes responsibility for the emissions it creates.”

The Committee on Climate Change’s chief executive Chris Stark said he “highly commends” the roadmap.

 

Living in a materials world

The global cement industry is estimated to account for 6-7% of man-made greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions annually and is widely considered hard-to-abate, given its reliance on sectors such as heat and transport, and the fact that its processes rely on clinker. However, the industry has delivered a 19% reduction in carbon emissions per tonne of cementitious material along with a ninefold increase in alternative fuel use since 1990.

The publication of UK Concrete’s roadmap comes shortly after the Global Cement and Concrete Association (GCCA) launched its own 2050 net-zero commitment, supported by the likes of Cemex, Dalmia Cement and Heidelberg. This global initiative, similarly, places high importance on CCS, low-carbon energy and recycled materials.

One of the signatories of the GCCA’s commitment, LafargeHolcim, recently committed to set 1.5C-aligned climate targets and to have them approved by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). It is the first corporate in the global sector to make this commitment.


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Sarah George



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