Recent Developments in Carbon Emissions in the Concrete Industry

2019 and 2020 are seeing the emergence of major initiatives in the areas of carbon emissions and embodied carbon. The embodiment of these issues is contained in the recently adopted Low Carbon Concrete Requirements in the Marin County, California building code. The new code can be found at under “low-carbon-concrete-code.” The goal of the code is reduction of carbon emissions associated with the production of cement and is embodied in section 19.07 of the new code:

…Marin County experiences climatic seasonal reduction in vegetative moisture content combined with our heavily populated steep terrain, which presents increased wildfire risk to our residents from carbon-induced global warming; and also bordered by sea water on three sides and subject to direct adverse local impact from sea-level rise as the result of construction-related contributions to climate change, including significant carbon emissions from cement production.

This is significant because, regardless of your view of carbon emissions and climate change, this is the first time a building code has addressed the issue directly.

Also, the Structural Engineering Institute (“SEI”) recently published the work of its Sustainability Committee Carbon Working Group; “Achieving Net Zero Embodied Carbon in Structural Materials by 2050.” The document covers various construction materials including concrete/cement. The report is available to download for free here.

Last, but definitely not least, is the ongoing work of the Carbon Leadership Forum (“CLF”), an organization founded by University of Washington professor Kate Simonen. CLF is a non-profit coalition of 40 construction industry sponsors including the American Concrete Institute. Among other work, CLF has developed a free open access tool that is in the testing phase referred to as the EC3 tool or “Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator.” The tool will provide a baseline calculator for embodied carbon in various building materials.

Jeffrey W. Coleman, PE, FACI

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