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Introducing a whitepaper, developed by SDSN and Saoradh Enterprise Partners, that evaluates life cycle assessments (LCAs) and cost-benefit analyses for seven low carbon concrete mix designs

The UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and a cleantech venture capital firm, Saoradh Enterprise Partners (SEP), released a whitepaper today analyzing low carbon concrete and cement mix designs. The study compared these designs and identified which were best suited for use based on several environmental and economic factors. The report conducted life cycle assessments and cost-benefit analyses for ground granulated blast furnace slag (GGBS), fly ash, biochar, recycled concrete aggregate (RCA), portland-limestone cement, limestone calcined clay cement (LC3), and early stage carbon curing.

The release of this report comes at a critical time. Momentum to decarbonize concrete, the second most consumed material in the world (after water), is growing, and rightfully so. Concrete accounts for about 7% of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. If the cement industry were a country, it would emit the third largest amount of CO2 behind China and the US. Furthermore, this $617 billion dollar industry is estimated to grow 12 to 23% by 2050. It is the foundation of our world and its utilization is quite concrete.

However, 45% of concrete’s emissions derive from calcination: a thermo-chemical process whose emissions cannot be addressed with go-to solutions like electrification and kiln efficiency. Solutions, such as low carbon concrete mix designs, are essential to decarbonize this “harder-to-abate” industry. 

This study provides insight into an industry riddled with antitrust laws, confidential data, and green washing, while demonstrating that emissions reductions and increased profits are both possible:

  • All low carbon mix designs, but RCA, offer CO2 emission reductions by up to 41% compared to traditional concrete. GGBS, LC3, and fly ash offer the most CO2 reductions (in that order). Biochar and curing offers negligible CO2 reductions.
  • Concrete producers have the incentive to implement LC3, fly ash, GGBS, and portland-limestone cement because they increase plant operating incomes up to 21%.
  • All low carbon mix designs become cost competitive compared to traditional concrete when considering social costs of carbon and the cost of diverting expensive waste from landfills.
  • This industry may prove difficult to regulate because there are 8,500 US concrete batching plants, antitrust laws, and a lack of available data.

The whitepaper expands on methodology, LCA results, cost-benefit results, mix design limitations, supply chains, key takeaways, and policy recommendations. It is accompanied by an ArcGIS StoryMap that provides a quick snapshot of key findings and a Topic Report that expands on the market, green metrics, cost metrics, technologies, policy, company landscape, and researchers (available for purchase at SEP’s marketplace).

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Explore the StoryMap
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