Concrete is the most widely used construction material in the world: 50% of all buildings are constructed from concrete and >70% of global population lives in a building containing concrete.
Due to its versatility and unique properties, concrete can be used in a large variety of construction applications: buildings, bridges, highways, dams, along other infrastructure.
The consumption of concrete is still increasing today, but the material has been around for thousands of years: The Romans were known for their extensive use of concrete in the construction of aqueducts, temples, and other structures. The Pantheon in Rome, built in 125 AD, is a famous example of ancient Roman concrete construction that is still standing today.
A lot of these constructions are still standing today after more than 2,000 years! Showing that when properly designed, constructed, and maintained, concrete structures can last centuries.
The material has a long list of advantages, such as cost-effective, water-resistant, temperature resistant, strong, and durable. However, there is also a downside to the product, concrete comes with environmental disadvantages because it accounts for 8% of global greenhouse emissions. With 8% it's one of the bigger polluters on the planet.
The production of cement emits a significant amount of CO2. (Though being used interchangeably, "cement" and "concrete" refer to two different materials: cement is one of the materials that is made to use composite concrete.) It also requires high temperatures, typically obtained by burning fossil fuels, which contributes to energy consumption.
The consumption of cement in the United States has steadily increased over the past decade, reaching approximately 120 million metric tons in 2022. The total volume of cement production worldwide amounted to an estimated 4.1 billion tons in 2022. Back in 1995, the total global production of cement amounted to just 1.39 billion tons, an indication of the extent to which the construction industry has grown since then. And with that also the contribution to pollution. Global demand is expected to increase 48% from 4.1 billion to 6.2 billion tons by 2050.
Additionally, the transportation of raw materials and finished concrete products also requires energy, leading to additional carbon emissions.
Another negative side issue of concrete is the high water usage during the production process, as well as the significant amounts of waste.
In the next 40 years, approximately 2.5 trillion square feet of infrastructure will be built, which is the equivalent of adding an entire New York City to the planet every 34 days (!) for the next 40 years (!). Or if we want to keep things a little simpler: almost double the amount of buildings we have now.
The global concrete industry must reduce emissions by 16 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050 to stay within the 1.5°C warming carbon budget. This effort will require significant changes across the concrete value chain.
Thankfully, the market is reacting, innovators are active, and several compelling solutions are available. The concrete industry is evolving with innovations in materials, mix designs, and construction techniques. For example, the use of advanced admixtures, nanotechnology, and self-healing concrete are some of the emerging trends aimed at improving the durability, performance, and sustainability of concrete structures.
In self-healing concrete, we are seeing multiple "green" solutions.
The construction sector is making big progress on reaching the net zero goals, and we will follow the developments in the market closely!