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PCA leaders make the case for carbon neutrality

By |  June 25, 2021
Modifying a concrete mix design to replace higher carbon materials with lower carbon ingredients is one way to reduce an environmental footprint. Photo: Thomas Northcut/DigitalVision/Getty Images

Modifying a concrete mix design to replace higher carbon materials with lower carbon ingredients is one way to reduce an environmental footprint. Photo: Thomas Northcut/DigitalVision/Getty Images

One of the buzzwords around the construction materials industry today is “sustainability.”

This concept, however, is nothing new to producers. Just ask Rick Bohan, vice president of sustainability at the Portland Cement Association (PCA).

“PLCs (portland-limestone cement) have been around since the 1960s,” Bohan says. “Unfortunately, we’ve got a regulatory framework that there are some disincentives to doing the right thing.”

PCA is currently exploring pathways to reduce carbon emissions and further address the impacts of climate change. To this end, PCA plans to develop a road map to facilitate its member companies achieving carbon neutrality across the concrete value chain by 2050.

While industries, environmental groups and local governments across the U.S. are increasingly working to mitigate the effects of climate change and create a more sustainable future, PCA expects its road map to position the cement and concrete industry as the leader in the construction sector in delivering cleaner and greener infrastructure.

Rick Bohan

Bohan

“A lot of people look at the issue of CO2 and say, ‘Just use less cement and concrete,’” Bohan says. “To me, that’s really missing the forest through the trees. Essentially, that views cement and concrete as the problem. It is not the problem; it is the solution to the problem.”

According to Bohan, gains in the name of sustainability can be made throughout the course of the value chain.

“When you look at cement, there are things we can do with the product mix,” Bohan says. “It creates opportunities for use of limestone, for example. PLC is finally starting to catch on.”

As PCA describes, PLC is a blended cement with a higher limestone content resulting in a product that works the same, measures the same and performs the same as portland cement – but with a 10 percent reduction in carbon footprint on average.

“One thing we have to message in the concrete industry is that concrete is like a live tree,” says Mike Ireland, president and CEO of PCA. “Here we are competing against wood, and we can have a message that concrete is absorbing CO2 through its lifetime and even after. Trees stop absorbing the minute you cut them down. It’s a great message for us.”

PLC is just one means to PCA’s end on carbon neutrality, though.

Mike Ireland

Ireland

“There are countries in Europe that use 50 or 60 percent alternative fuel,” Ireland says. “They’re taking waste fuel out of the landfill, plastics out of the ocean and burning it as fuel. This has two benefits: getting rid of the waste and using an alternative, cheaper fuel.”

As Bohan describes, the purpose of PCA’s 2050 road map is to move past institutional inertia and show policymakers, engineers and others what’s possible. But these influencers must be willing to accept some change for the industry to achieve carbon neutrality.

“If you’re willing to take a different perspective, not only can we get to carbon neutrality but you can get as good or better products out there,” Bohan says.  “Not only will you lower your CO2 footprint, but you’re going to make some money doing this.”

Still, Bohan says the cement industry needs buy-in and support from across the construction materials industry – including from aggregate producers.

“Anyone who touches cement, concrete, construction is invited to be part of that road map,” says Bohan, adding that PCA will be looking to the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association to endorse its road map.

Kevin Yanik

About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is the editor-in-chief of Pit & Quarry magazine. Yanik can be reached at 216-706-3724 or kyanik@northcoastmedia.net.

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