Concrete is the second most used product on the planet, after water, and almost half of it is produced in China. The booming Chinese economy has created such a demand for building materials that cement production there last year released 540m tonnes of carbon dioxide - just short of Britain's total output from all sources. Cement's weight and low value mean it is almost always made close to where it is needed, and China's demand helped it to overtake the US as the world's leading polluter last year. Like the aviation industry, the expected rapid growth in cement production is at severe odds with calls to cut carbon emissions to tackle global warming.Fortunately, there appears to be a solution to this juggernaut in the form of a new type of cement called Novacem, made by a British company of the same name. Novacem recently won the Material of the Year Award from Material ConneXion, which states that,
By replacing the calcium carbonates used in cement formulation with magnesium silicates, and by using a low-temperature production process that runs on biomass fuels, Novacem has developed a new class of cement that offers performance and cost parity with ordinary Portland Cement, but with a negative carbon footprint.Presenting the award, George M. Beylerian, Founder & CEO of Material ConneXion said, "Our award for Material of the Year celebrates the power of material innovation to enhance the world in which we live—from our built environment to the designs that we interact with on a daily basis." Some have called the prospect of carbon capturing cement "the holy grail." According the award's press release, citing Dr. Andrew H. Dent, Material ConneXion’s Vice President,
Concrete constitutes the greatest amount of manmade material on this planet—one that is claimed to contribute to 5% of humanity’s carbon footprint. With a simple change of ingredient, Novacem has achieved what could be one of the single largest reductions in CO2 emissions in construction to date. This carbon negative cement reduces carbon emissions of poured concrete from 800Kg emitted per ton to 50kg absorbed per ton.Pretty impressive, eh? Apparently, I'm not the only one that thinks so. When I visited Novacem's website I saw that Novacem was also, “a World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer for 2011” and was featured on “MIT Technology Review's list of the ten most important emerging technologies for 2010. It is also on the Global Cleantech 100, is a Wall Street Journal Technology Innovation winner and a Bloomberg New Energy Pioneer for 2010.” So what are these magnesium silicates that they intend to use, you ask, some kind of exotic rare earth formulation? You might recognize them by their more common name: talc. Novacem, which has been developing this product for over twenty years, estimates that worldwide reserves are in excess of 10 billion tons. Of course, no one expects makers of conventional Portland cement to simply roll over. They claim that magnesium based cements have been around for well over a century and are commonly known as Sorel cements. They acknowledge that Novacem represents a new formulation, but speculate that it will likely be far more expensive. Or maybe they are just hoping so. Novacem is not yet commercially available, and there are no independent test reports available as yet either. So some caution is warranted here. Yet if this company comes anywhere close to meeting its claims, this would be very good news indeed. China, are you listening? [Image credit: Cement plant-China: tk_yeoh:Flickr Creative Commons] RP Siegel is the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water. Like airplanes, we all leave behind a vapor trail. And though we can easily see others’, we rarely see our own. Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.
RP Siegel (1952-2021), was an author and inventor who shined a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His work appeared in TriplePundit, GreenBiz, Justmeans, CSRWire, Sustainable Brands, Grist, Strategy+Business, Mechanical Engineering, Design News, PolicyInnovations, Social Earth, Environmental Science, 3BL Media, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, Eniday, and engineering.com among others . He was the co-author, with Roger Saillant, of Vapor Trails, an adventure novel that shows climate change from a human perspective. RP was a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 53 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. RP was the winner of the 2015 Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week blogging competition. RP passed away on September 30, 2021. We here at TriplePundit will always be grateful for his insight, wit and hard work.