Real possibility: zero carbon cement

A new report shows it’s possible to completely eliminate carbon emissions when producing cement – a process that’s currently damaging the environment and wasting resources.
There’s no getting around the fact that we need cement to make concrete – one of the most widely used materials in construction, thanks to its strength and reliability.
But does the manufacturing process need to be so environmentally destructive?
The production of cement releases high amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, amounting to around 5 per cent of global carbon emissions. It also uses high amounts of raw materials, water and energy, which we can’t afford to waste.
Are there ways around this?
Beyond Zero Emissions thinks so. This globally recognised think tank has released a new report which sets out a pathway for completely eliminating carbon emissions when producing cement.
This may seem like a pipe dream, but they say we already have the technology to move to a zero carbon industry in ten years. We even have the ability to turn cement into an effective carbon sink – meaning it will actually absorb carbon in the future (cement has the ability to do this through a process called carbonation as it ages and weathers over time).
Their suggested strategies for reducing carbon intensity include:
– Using more geopolymer cement, since its production doesn’t generate greenhouse gases.
– Making greater use of high-blend cements by mixing regular cement with materials such as fly ash, clay and ground limestone.
– Adopting a new technology (mineral carbonation) to capture emissions from the production of Portland cement. This process chemically seals carbon dioxide within rock.
– Using less cement by designing more efficient structures and replacing concrete with timber, where possible.
– Developing magnesium-based cements which absorb carbon dioxide.
This report is the first part of their Zero Carbon Industry Plan, which aims to start a conversation about eliminating carbon emissions during the production of construction materials like steel, chemicals, plastic and cement.
And the government could be primed to take notice, considering commercial construction is the top sector for green building growth globally.
Australian green commercial projects are expected to soar over the next three years.
Queensland is getting off to a good start by:
– Hosting the first Australian building to formally adopt zero-carbon standards (Brisbane)
– Planning to build a major renewable energy facility (North Queensland – Ingham)
– Developing ‘smart windows’ that use less energy (Griffith University).
– Using engineered timber to design safe and sustainable buildings (Maryborough and Brisbane)
The timing of such innovation couldn’t be better, since it seems obvious that Australia is itching for more progress in this area.