Improving the environmental credentials of cement

A published review of the cement industry highlights a number of marginal changes to the processing and production techniques that could lead significant improvements in the environmental impact of the material.

Concrete wall at MAXXI museum in Rome

It has been well documented that the production of cement and concrete through traditional manufacturing routes has a significant impact on the environment, resulting in the substantial emission of greenhouse gases and placing a strain on natural resources. Over the coming decades, there will be even greater demand for cementitious materials as the need for housing and industry shows no sign of diminishing.

It is unlikely that there will be any large scale, cost effective alternatives to cement and concrete in that time, so the construction industry needs to consider whether traditional manufacturing methods are sustainable.

In an article featured in Nature Reviews Earth and Environment, Professor John Provis, Professor of of Cement Materials Science and Engineering in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, along with colleagues from other leading international research institutes, reveal that even small changes in the traditional production route can lead to big changes in the environmental impact of cements and concretes (thought to have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 50%) - an approach that is welcomed by the usually slow-moving and risk-averse construction industry.

In this review - which can be found here: https://www.nature.com/articles/s43017-020-0093-3 - the authors examine impacts of cement production, from health issues, resource scarcity and environmental effects, before looking at solutions which could improve the performance of cementitious materials both in the medium term and long term.

These improvements include adjusting the composition of concretes, improving construction and design efficiency, and introducing carbon capture technologies throughout the construction supply chain. There is also a need for policy and legislative changes to standardise the approach to production in the developed world.

The work of researchers at the University of Sheffield is making a direct contribution to the improvement of the industry, in particular in the development of low CO2 cements. Details of their work can be found on their web pages: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/materials/research/centres/cementssheffield

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