Monday, July 22, 2024

Greener Concrete: Pioneering Efforts in the Pacific Northwest

Concrete, a fundamental construction material, contributes significantly to carbon emissions, with 8% of man-made carbon emissions originating from its production. In the Pacific Northwest, particularly in Washington state, innovators are working to revolutionize concrete production methods, aiming to reduce its environmental impact. From alternative materials to groundbreaking technologies, these efforts showcase the region’s commitment to sustainability and environmental responsibility.

Current State of Concrete’s Environmental Impact

The impact of concrete on the environment often goes unnoticed, overshadowed by the attention given to the emissions from vehicles. However, concrete production generates substantial carbon emissions, mainly due to the chemical reactions involved in Portland cement production. Addressing this issue is crucial for tackling global warming, with concrete contributing to 8% of man-made carbon emissions.

Northwest innovators chase the dream of greener concrete3

The Quest for Greener Concrete

Phil Northcott, founder of C Change Labs in Coquitlam, B.C., emphasizes the urgency of addressing the concrete problem to combat global warming effectively. The technology and ingenuity to develop greener concrete alternatives already exist; what is lacking is a compelling business case for action. Washington state, with its robust construction industry and concrete demand, is poised to become a testing ground for these innovations.

Local Initiatives and Innovations

Various projects in the region are already experimenting with low-CO2 concrete alternatives. Examples include cream-colored walls at the Seattle Storm’s practice facility using granulated slag, the Amazon Spheres incorporating steel slag to reduce Portland cement usage, and a Microsoft data center in Central Washington incorporating algae as a limestone substitute.

Washington State University’s Contribution

Researchers at Washington State University claim to have developed a “carbon-negative” cement using fine-grain black biochar made from plants. This material captures carbon from the air and has the potential to revolutionize the industry. Biochar is conditioned to enhance its strength, offering a promising solution to the environmental challenges posed by traditional cement production.

Northwest innovators chase the dream of greener concrete2

New Innovations: C-Crete and Greener Concrete

Innovative products like C-Crete, described as “cement-free,” have been poured into historical buildings and housing foundations in Seattle. C-Crete incorporates natural pozzolans or steel slag instead of carbon-intensive kilned limestone. The success of such projects is a testament to the viability of these alternatives, with potential applications in seismic-resistant structures.

Greener Concrete, a Seattle-based company, utilizes zeolite from volcanic sediments, displacing half of the Portland cement. This crystalline, pozzolanic compound requires no heat treatment, presenting a more energy-efficient option akin to Roman concrete. The University of Washington’s research on zeolite concrete shows promise, with the material exhibiting impressive strength and unique crystalline structures.

Challenges and Future Outlook

While these innovations showcase progress, challenges such as supply chain limitations and startup costs hinder large-scale adoption of new cements. Overcoming risk aversion among civil engineers, especially in transportation projects, remains a hurdle. The need for cost competitiveness is highlighted, with the general sentiment being that lower-CO2 concrete solutions must also be economically viable to gain widespread acceptance.

Global Impact and Scaling Solutions

Experts emphasize the importance of global-scale solutions to make a substantial impact on concrete emissions. Rebuilding cement-factory kilns to capture and store carbon dioxide waste directly into the ground is proposed as a viable strategy. Natural pozzolans, sourced in abundance, show potential for widespread environmental improvements, while some innovations, like biochar, may be limited to niche uses due to additional production steps.


In the Pacific Northwest, particularly Washington state, efforts to create greener concrete solutions are gaining momentum.


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