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Broad collaboration for a sustainable concrete industry

Sustainable social development requires sustainable, robust and functional building materials with a long lifespan and a minimal carbon footprint. In the Vinnova-funded project BETCRETE, RISE has brought together a broad consortium of leading operators to formulate an implementation plan for the industrial transition towards carbon-neutral cement and concrete industries.

Concrete is the most widely used building material in the world, but also a significant source of CO2 emissions. Achieving carbon neutrality within the next 25 years – by 2045 – will require swift, but quality-assured, measures to be implemented, along with the development of innovative solutions able to contribute to paradigm shifts in the construction industry.

– “There is no universal solution to the CO2 problem,” says Katarina Malaga, unit manager at RISE and Project Manager for BETCRETE. “We have proposed an agenda for short- and long-term activities in which multidimensional solutions have been identified.”

Consensus and unity a priority

The main goal of BETCRETE was to bring together the cement and concrete industries in order to build consensus and unity for a common implementation strategy aimed at achieving carbon neutrality by 2045.

– “I would say that we have achieved – and exceeded – the collaboration goal in the project,” says Malaga. “From the start we had a strong consortium comprising cement and concrete manufacturers, trade associations, government agencies, researchers and innovators, contractors and consultants in concrete construction. Additional operators have joined along the way and there has been huge commitment from all parties.”

An important success factor for increasing the demand for concrete with a lower climate impact is good cooperation between builders, clients, architects and designers. In this, BETCRETE will serve as a unifying force.

We need to build efficiently and with a long-term view

Five potential directions

The project has identified five potential directions to help the industry achieve carbon neutrality while retaining strong industrial production towards sustainable social development:

  • energy efficiency in cement production
  • optimisation of concrete composition with alternative binders
  • the development of new, long-lasting and sustainable alternative binders in volumes and qualities conducive to transition
  • carbonatation and other means of creating carbon sinks
  • exploring CCS opportunities in Sweden/Nordic region, or other technical solutions for capturing, storing and/or using CO2.

–  “We need to build efficiently and with a long-term view in terms of resources, we must invest in recycling and create sustainable manufacturing processes for all building materials,” explains Malaga.

These five areas all demonstrate the need for the revision, adaptation, and development of new standards, policies and regulations, along with new business models and greater knowledge. Moreover, there is a need for understanding and support from society concerning the time-consuming and capital-intensive investments required by the industry. Achieving carbon neutrality while maintaining competitiveness necessitates long-term policy decisions, financing solutions and transparent and predictable permit issuing processes.

Public sector driving transition

Clients in both the public and private sectors are able to set requirements, but public sector clients at national, regional and municipal level, by virtue of large volumes, have the potential to take the lead and pave the way. This facilitates the pace of transition and encourages more clients to follow suit.

In order to promote long-term sustainable solutions, established requirements need to be material-neutral functional requirements and, furthermore, they must be based on scientific facts and life cycle assessments. Evaluation should be based on long-term value; for example, a building with a frame that can be changed over time and according to prevailing needs without having to be demolished and rebuilt is sustainable from both a climate and economic perspective.

– “In Stage 2 of BETCRETE, we plan to show examples in the form of both real objects and demo objects,” says Malaga. “It is also gratifying that all the parties involved in Stage 1 have also shown an interest in continued cooperation in Stage 2.”

Step 1 of the BETCRETE project ran between April 2019 and February 2020. The steering committee consisted of Cementa, Svensk Betong, Trafikverket, Thomas Concrete Group, Swerock, Skanska Betong, ELU and RISE. External partners in the project were NCC, Sveriges Byggindustrier, Skanska, Chalmers, LTU, Stena Recycling, Danske Bank, Sweco, Codesign, Abetong, Vinnova and Trafikverket. The project was funded by Vinnova.

Published: 2021-06-16
Katarina Malaga

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Katarina Malaga

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