Reducing carbon not only makes good environmental sense but it also makes good business sense as it ultimately means using less energy. From the sourcing of alternative raw materials and harnessing renewable energies, to optimising the manufacturing process and transporting materials by train, ship or barge, there’s no shortage of solutions which together have enabled the industry to achieve a huge reduction in the carbon impact of products like concrete.
Now the industry is pushing carbon reduction to the next level with several promising examples of ground-breaking products under development. The biggest barrier preventing the use of lower-energy product innovations is acceptance from the construction industry – and its regulators – which have come to depend on tried and tested materials with a long history of good performance. Undeterred, mineral products companies are steadily breaking new ground – in some cases over many years – to encourage customers to adapt their thinking and adopt innovations.
Concrete is much maligned because of the embodied carbon from the manufacture of its key ingredient, cement. However, no other product can match concrete for performance, versatility and availability. And research shows there is little or no difference between concrete and other structural materials over the lifetime of a building.
Concrete has inherent thermal mass properties which means it helps to keep buildings cool in hot weather and provides insulation to allow buildings to retain heat in cold conditions. It is therefore proven to outperform other materials in buildings where thermal mass forms part of the cooling strategy. Because less energy is needed for heating and cooling in concrete buildings, any additional embodied carbon can be offset many times over.
Unlike other structural products, concrete is also indigenous, made almost entirely with ingredients sourced and produced in the Great Britain.
The closest alternative – steel – also starts with mineral extraction from the ground and is produced using high temperatures (hotter than those in cement manufacture) before being made into steel products that are shipped around the world. Another structural alternative – timber – is not available in anywhere near the volumes that are required for global construction and does not have the properties or durability required for infrastructure and high-rise buildings.
In reality, a combination of structural materials will continue to be required to meet the country’s and the world’s requirements for construction materials.
The Mineral Products Association (MPA) is the trade association for the aggregates, asphalt, cement, concrete, dimension stone, lime, mortar and silica sand industries.