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Innovation, CCUS key to decarbonizing concrete: Canadian report

The Canadian concrete industry is looking to work hand-in-hand with the federal government to decarbonize concrete and cement through innovations and carbon capture technology. (Courtesy Cement Association of Canada)

A cement industry body and the Canadian government have released a blueprint for the sector to reach net-zero by 2050, challenging the heavily polluting industry to decarbonize with technology, efficiency and carbon capture.

The Roadmap to Net-Zero Carbon Concrete By 2050 report was published by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada in cooperation with the Cement Association of Canada (CAC). The CAC is a trade association representing most of the country’s cement companies.

It identifies concrete as the second-most consumed product on earth, used for all manner of buildings and infrastructure. In Canada, the industry is said to be responsible for 158,000 direct and indirect jobs, and $76 billion in direct, indirect and induced economic impact.

Cement and concrete are also a serious contributor to climate change. Cement contributes to seven per cent of global emissions and 1.5 per cent of Canada’s pollution.

Canadian firms are expected to produce 55 million tonnes of cement and 400 million tonnes of concrete over the next five years.

The report says the cement and concrete industry has committed to reducing more than 15 megatonnes of greenhouse gases (GHGs) cumulatively by 2030. The report lays out a series of paths the industry and government can take to achieve that goal.

Ways to decarbonize

The first path deals with clinker, the precursor to cement. Its production is energy-intensive and a major source of the carbon dioxide emissions related to cement.

To reduce emissions from clinker, the report prescribes:

  • reducing clinker volumes by increasing the volume of decarbonized raw materials;
  • increasing the use of low-carbon fuels for combustion such as waste-based fuels;
  • adopting clean energy and energy efficiency; and
  • employing carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS).

For concrete, the report recommends increasing the use of supplementary cementitious materials (SCMs) to reduce GHG emissions.

It also notes the importance of: decarbonizing concrete manufacturing and transportation; optimizing the design and construction process to produce less waste; and use of materials built for longevity, adaptive re-use and deconstruction.

From government, the report suggests new codes and standards to mandate low-carbon concrete and addressing the issues surrounding the procurement of concrete and cement.

Adam Auer, president and CEO of the CAC, said governments have “the potential to be significant market-makers for innovation and to really de-risk the novelty of new low-carbon innovation for the rest of the market.”

Auer said capital support in the area of green procurement could aid the use of transformative technology like CCUS. The government could also support research and development and anticipate knowledge gaps.

Action Plan to 2030: Markets, innovation and technology

The Action Plan to 2030 consists of three priority areas to support the concrete industry reaching net-zero by 2050.

The first is driving Canadian market development to, “Create the commercial and regulatory conditions needed for the concrete market to quickly adapt to a net-zero and circular economy.”

To achieve this, the report recommends prioritizing building code and standards changes to regulate building life-cycle carbon and drive demand for low-carbon materials and design. This would include awareness campaigns to integrate low-carbon performance into building and infrastructure design, guides and codes.

For Canadian market development, the report says the industry and government can support innovation, technology, research and development strategies and policies to achieve net-zero carbon concrete in Canada by 2050; update the National Master Specification (NMS) to recognize existing lower-carbon cement solutions; and continue to use the NMS to build awareness of, and confidence in, cement and concrete innovations as new standards are approved.

The second priority revolves around bolstering innovation and the industry transition along the full concrete value chain.

To foster innovation, the report says the government and industry should work with stakeholders to identify and support research and development and deployment activities, and develop collaborations with academia for Canada’s leadership in low-carbon cement and concrete.

It also suggests identifying and developing new technological solutions to reduce the carbon intensity of the concrete industry like novel SCMs and admixtures, and promote the procurement of new-to-market technologies in low-risk infrastructure.

The third step looks to position Canada as a global leader in low-carbon building materials through new export opportunities and international collaboration.

The report says this can be achieved by identifying international markets for low-carbon cement and concrete products, systems and technologies; creating a coordinated assessment of key technologies such as carbon capture and low-carbon fuels; and aligning robust and transparent carbon accounting methodologies and verification procedures.

Also, it says Canada should pursue synergy with the U.S. on ‘buy clean’ strategies.

Looking to 2050

The report emphasizes carbon capture solutions as a key technology to rein in emissions to reach the net-zero goal by 2050.

It states two-thirds of the GHG emissions from cement manufacturing originate from the conversion of limestone into lime in a high-temperature kiln. While efficiencies and fuel switching can dent this figure, it says without carbon capture, “the process emissions in cement manufacturing are effectively irreducible.”

Sarah Petrevan, director of sustainability at the CAC, defended CCUS. “There is no other option currently for the cement industry to reduce our process emissions, other than to use CCUS.”

She referenced research from BloombergNEF and the International Energy Agency to corroborate the report, and said the cement industry is one of the toughest sectors in which to abate carbon emissions.

Auer said CCUS in the industry can capture 90 to 95 per cent of the carbon at its production facility, so there are minimal downstream emissions, unlike in the oil and gas industry.

The report anticipates Canada having the foundation for larger-scale deployment of carbon capture technology by 2030. It references Canada’s efforts to push carbon capture, including the Strategic Innovation Fund’s Net-Zero Accelerator and the investment tax credit in the 2022 fall economic statement to incentivize carbon capture.

Petrevan applauded the 2022 fall economic statement, saying the CAC’s members were struggling to compete against the Inflation Reduction Act in the U.S.

“We were pleased to see that acknowledgment in the government’s commitment to work on finding a solution and then also some of the language around the Canada Growth Fund and recognizing that getting some of these transformative net-zero projects off the ground are going to require something more than business-as-usual in terms of government programs,” Petrevan said.



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