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Tue January 18 2022

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Study to measure how much CO2 concrete absorbs

17 Dec 21 The government has commissioned a study to calculate the carbon dioxide emissions that are naturally absorbed by concrete used in UK buildings and infrastructure.

White Collar Factory, London (Tim Soar Photography)
White Collar Factory, London (Tim Soar Photography)

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has appointed a consortium led by the Mineral Products Association (MPA) to assess the size of the emissions sink for the carbonation of concrete in the UK. 

The MPA is working with Heriot Watt University, consulting engineer Ricardo and The Concrete Society.

The project intends to create the first national greenhouse gas inventory in the world to include a scientific model (Tier 2) to calculate the emissions sink benefit provided by the carbonation of concrete over its lifecycle.

Carbonation is a process that occurs naturally in concrete where hydrated minerals react with carbon dioxide from the air to form calcium carbonate.

The project will create a methodology that will inform the UK’s greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory and the UK’s national and international reporting obligations on climate change.

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Buildings account for 42% of emissions either directly from heating or indirectly through electricity use.  This research will determine what the concrete use in buildings and infrastructure contributes to absorbing atmospheric CO2 by improving the national GHG accountancy.

The Sixth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recognised concrete carbonation but there is not yet an approved method for calculating the emissions sink associated with the carbonation of concrete in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 2019 Refinement. This research aims to help fill that gap.

Richard Leese, director of industrial policy, energy and climate change at the MPA, said: “Delivering net zero concrete and cement production in the UK is not reliant on carbonation. This natural carbonation has previously been overlooked by national and international carbon accounting but can undoubtedly contribute to helping the industry remove more CO2 from the atmosphere than it emits, especially when carbonation can be enhanced or accelerated.

“By assessing exposed concrete used in buildings to bridges, this important research will help improve UK carbon accounting and provide an accurate assessment of carbonation across the lifecycle of the built environment.  It could also shape how future buildings and infrastructure are designed, used and improve the subsequent use of demolition material to act as carbon sinks and accelerate the CO2 uptake process.”   

The UK concrete and cement industry has set out a roadmap to reduce emissions to beyond net zero by 2050. The plans is that net zero will be met through decarbonised electricity and transport networks, fuel switching, greater use of low-carbon cements and concretes as well as carbon capture, use or storage (CCUS) technology for cement manufacture.

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