Green concrete needed to reduce Australian construction emissions

by Ned Lupson
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green concrete

Consumed more than any other material apart from water, concrete now accounts for eight percent of global carbon emissions.

Engineering company Hatch has released a new report into the overlooked carbon costs of the construction material, highlighting the potential of green concrete to drive Australian decarbonisation and strengthen infrastructure, for a negligible increase in costs.

Author of the report, Hatch structural engineer Dr Ezgi Kaya says that, unlike conventional concrete, which requires a considerable amount of energy and resources to produce, green concrete often uses recycled materials and minimises use of Portland cement, “a major contributor to carbon emissions”.

Recycling waste can be key to advancing sustainability outcomes in construction. Western Australia’s recent upgrade to its Kwinana Highway is a prominent example – but this practice is rare in Australia.

The report shows that Australian embodied carbon can be reduced up to 80 percent by switching away from traditional cement-based concrete.

Embodied carbon describes the carbon emissions produced during construction, including the manufacturing and transportation of materials. Hatch believes that too much attention has been given to reducing operational carbon emissions (the carbon dioxide emitted by ongoing operation of a building) neglecting high carbon costs of upfront construction.

As the adoption of new technologies in building energy efficiency reduces operational carbon, embodied carbon represents a more significant share of total emissions.

The switch to green concrete 

Green concrete is already a widely offered solution with clear benefits. According to Hatch, green concrete options have already been used in more than 60 Australian projects across multiple industries and are offered by all major suppliers.

“Replacing just 50 percent of traditional concrete with green concrete could reduce Australia’s carbon emissions by approximately 17 million tonnes annually,” says Dr Kaya.

Beyond its reduced carbon footprint, green concrete offers quality advantages of improved durability, typically lasting longer than traditional concrete, and potential energy efficiency thanks to its greater insulation properties.

Though it would add up to 1.4 percent in total installation costs, green concrete may actually save building owners and operators money in the long run by requiring less maintenance and repair.

Read about how researchers from the University of Tokyo developed a way to make cement from food waste earlier this year.

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