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Report ID’s pathways for zero-emission cement and concrete by 2050

New research offers the most detailed model available of cement decarbonization in China, India, and the United States

SAN FRANCISCO – March 16, 2020 – ClimateWorks Foundation, a leading global platform for climate philanthropy, in collaboration with Northwestern University today announced new research for reducing emissions in concrete, the world’s most used building material. The report, Decarbonizing Concrete: Deep decarbonization pathways for the cement and concrete cycle in the United States, India, and China, shows in greater detail than ever before multiple ways to drive the cement industry toward net-zero emissions by mid-century, including production-side mitigation measures, research and development, and demand reduction by increasing the use of lean construction and other sustainable building materials.

Concrete is the second most used substance in the world after water, and demand for it continues to rise globally, especially in the biggest consuming countries of China, India, and the U.S. Concrete is responsible for almost 10% of energy-related CO2 emissions, primarily due to the high heat required to make it and the CO2 emissions from the chemical reactions involved. 

“As the world rapidly approaches 1.5° C of warming, we need to be more ambitious in our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cement and concrete,” said Surabi Menon, vice president of Global Intelligence, at ClimateWorks Foundation. “The need is becoming even more acute as governments — the U.S. included — increasingly turn to investments in infrastructure as a way to help economies recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.” 

The report presents a cradle-to-grave analysis of the entire cement and concrete cycle, identifying the key decarbonization levers and opportunities, and modeling the combined contribution of these approaches. Using real-world data to generate illustrative pathways for mid-century decarbonization, the report specifies 30 levers for lowering emissions, including both conventional approaches, such as more efficient kilns and greater use of bio-derived fuels, and emerging technologies such as greener cement chemistries, materials efficiency, and carbon capture and utilization. 

Eric Masanet, the project’s principal investigator, stated, “One clear conclusion we arrived at in the course of our research is that there is no single solution, but rather a range of small and large changes that will be necessary to achieve net-zero emission targets. Zhi Cao, the project’s lead analyst, added “Our report offers a rich and detailed blueprint for governments and companies looking to support economy-wide decarbonization goals.”

The research examines two scenarios for how cement and concrete can be decarbonized across the life cycle — production-centric and whole-systems. The production-centric approach explores ways to reach net-zero emissions solely through measures that reduce the carbon intensity of cement and concrete production. This scenario is in line with existing business models, leverages technological improvements to the cement and concrete manufacturing processes, and primarily relies on the cement and concrete industries to take action. In contrast, the whole-systems scenario considers a wider portfolio of levers, with an emphasis on reducing demand for cement and concrete. Success with this approach will require an embrace of new business models, technological advancement, and the need for rapid development of enabling policy regimes, including the mobilization of support from a larger group of stakeholders ranging from architects to the general public.

For more on the report, read ClimateWorks’ blog here and download the full report here.


About ClimateWorks Foundation

ClimateWorks Foundation is a global platform for philanthropy to innovate and accelerate climate solutions that scale. We deliver global programs and services that equip philanthropy with the knowledge, networks, and solutions to drive climate progress. Since 2008, ClimateWorks has granted over $1 billion to more than 500 grantees in over 40 countries.

About Northwestern University

Founded in 1851, Northwestern University is one of the country’s leading private research and teaching universities with an enrollment of approximately 8,000 full-time undergraduate students and approximately 8,000 full-time graduate and professional students and approximately 2,000 part-time students on campuses in Evanston and Chicago, Illinois, and Doha, Qatar. Northwestern combines innovative teaching and pioneering research in a highly collaborative environment that transcends traditional academic boundaries. Northwestern provides students and faculty exceptional opportunities for intellectual, personal and professional growth in a setting enhanced by the richness of Chicago. 

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Published March 16, 2021

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