The most widely used man-made material on Earth is undergoing a renaissance in the understanding of its whole-life carbon benefits.
The carbon debate is often too focused on capital carbon measurements, which incorporate carbon emitted during the material’s production and construction. This overlooks the bigger picture.
Crucially, capital carbon measurements fail to consider performance over an asset’s lifecycle (risking sub-optimal design and specification) as well as the potential of higher running costs. Put simply, whole-life analysis measures anticipate carbon impacts over the lifetime of an asset. This includes extraction of raw materials, product miles and construction, through to maintenance, repair, reuse and recyclability following demolition. Both RIBA and RICS have recently acknowledged the importance of whole-life specification, issuing guidance for members that will become mandatory from May 2018.
Beneficial Assets of Concrete
The popularity of concrete has been driven by the recognition of its many benefits, including flexibility of design and particularly durability, which can minimise maintenance throughout a structure’s lifespan.
Durability and cost efficiency are essential considerations for infrastructure projects. Each maintenance intervention entails not only disruption but also carbon impacts and financial costs. A product with higher capital carbon could be three or four times more durable than a lower capital carbon alternative, resulting in a lower carbon footprint and maintenance costs over its lifecycle.
When designed into a building envelope, the thermal mass properties of concrete can greatly reduce energy consumption, operating costs and carbon footprint. Concrete is able to absorb and release heat energy, in line with daily and seasonal heating and cooling cycles, resulting in the regulation of ambient temperatures. It is therefore possible to substantially reduce the need for expensive, inefficient heating or cooling systems. This generates significant carbon savings that are only fully revealed through whole-life analysis.
The principles of the circular economy mean that an asset’s end-of-life must also play an important part in material specification. Concrete offers specific benefits during recycling. When concrete is crushed, the cement within it naturally ‘re-carbonates’, chemically binding carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The amount absorbed is estimated to be equivalent to up to 20% of the carbon from the cement manufacturing process, when proper recycling practices are applied.
Concrete has a vital role to play in delivering the UK’s infrastructure pipeline, from roads and rail to renewable energy and new housing, and it can also support the industry’s efforts to meet the carbon challenge.
Here at EKA Concrete we specialise in the supply of high quality concrete for a huge range of applications in both the domestic and commercial sectors. To find out more, or get a free quote, simply give us a call today.